Snake venom collection, classification at Chittagong Medical College Venom Research Centre
Antivenin or antivenom used to treat snakebite victims in the country is imported from India, which cannot fully and effectively neutralize the venom of local species of snakes.
Due to the variation in venom among and within different species of snakes, antivenin is most effective when it is produced from the venom of local snakes.
To produce snake antivenin within the country, the Directorate General of Health Services of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, undertook a five year project in 2017 and set up a Venom Research Centre at Chittagong Medical College (CMC).
It is a collaborative venture of the Department of Medicine, Chittagong Medical College, the Department of Zoology, Chittagong University, the Department of Tropical Medicine and Public Health, Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, the Toxicology Society of Bangladesh, and the Bangladesh Association for the Advancement of Tropical Medicine.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Dr Aniruddha Ghose, principal investigator of the project, said: “The immediate aim of the project is to collect and rear specimens of all the medically important snakes from different parts of the country and to collect their venoms. The objective is to obtain representative samples of venoms, standardize these venoms, and use them for venomics and proteomic studies and to make effective and affordable snake antivenin.”
“To achieve this, we have to collect enough specimens of snakes from various ecological locations of our country, rear them, and collect enough venom from them. These venoms have to be analyzed and characterized after which they can be used to produce antivenin,” added Dr Ghose, associate professor of CMC’s Medicine Department.
Currently 15 investigators and 7 research assistants are associated with the project.
There are a 110 snakes of nine species housed in the Serpentarium. Of them, 43 snakes are adults and the remaining are young.
According to ‘Snakebite and its Treatment,’ a book written by Toxicology Society of Bangladesh President, Dr MA Faiz, there are about 82 different species of snakes found in Bangladesh, including 12 species of sea snakes. Of the 27 species of venomous snakes, only six species are medically important. The three types of venomous snakes that cause the majority of clinical problems are the viper, krait, and the cobra.
Of them, the green pit viper and black krait are common in Chittagong, while Russell’s viper is common in Rajshahi, and Sind krait in Dhaka.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, Dr Faiz said: “Toxic elements found in venom vary from species to species. Variability in venom composition is also seen in snakes of the same species due to their geographical distribution.”
“The antivenoms imported from India are made from snakes common in India, not Bangladesh. For example, India uses the venom of the saw scaled viper to make one of their antivenoms, but the saw scaled viper is not found in Bangladesh. Likewise, India uses binocellate cobra (Naja naja) venom, when the monocellate cobra (Naja kaouthia) is common in Bangladesh. Similarly, India uses the venom of the common krait for an antivenom, where the common krait is uncommon in Bangladesh,” added Dr Faiz.
The antivenin provided by government hospitals of the country fail to neutralize the venom of the green snake, as its venom is not used to make the antivenom, according to ‘Snakebite and its Treatment.’
According to experts, around 600,000 people are bitten by snakes annually in Bangladesh, and about 6000 die from snake bite. A large number of snakebite victims also suffer from different types of disabilities.