The nucleus of my research program is our blood coagulation testing to examine areas of evolutionary convergence and how these novel toxins can be used for drug design and development.
This research is facilitated by our core equipment: a Stago STA-R Max coagulation analyzer, a Flouroskan with CAT (calibrated automatic thrombogram) software, 2 TEG5000 thrombelastograph hemostasis analyzers and a Chronolog platelet aggregometer.
Our research into this area has been investigating a wide range of venoms while developing innovative protocols. For example, our recent paper on Echis (saw-scaled venoms) showed that the two African antivenoms were only effective against snakes from restricted ranges. The ICP Echi-Tab antivenom performed well against West African saw-scaled vipers with little cross-reactivity against East African venoms, reflective of only West African venoms being used in the immunising mixture. In contrast the SAVP Echis antivenom is made using both East and West African venoms and while it performed best against the East African saw-scaled vipers, it still neutralised West African venoms, albeit at a lower level than it did against East African and at a considerably lower level than Echi-Tab did against East African venoms. The Indian SII and VINS antivenoms failed against the Indian saw-scaled viper from a range different to the one used for the antivenom production, and failed completely against African saw-scaled vipers. The research highlights an urgent public health issue, as all four antivenoms are being sold in Africa to treat saw-scaled vipers’ bites. In African regions where Indian antivenoms have been used, the death rate increased twenty-fold due to their complete failure.
The protocols we developed in the study on Echis (saw-scaled venoms) challenged the long-used WHO protocols which ascertained efficacy through a prolonged preincubation (>30 minutes) of venom with antivenom prior to lethality challenges in mice. We considered this a biologically unrealistic period of time as venom and antivenom would not be in proximity to each other for so long in the blood stream as this is a dynamic, fast-moving system. In this study, we developed protocols that involved only 2 minute incubation times while also rigorously interrogating the venoms for their dependency upon the biochemical cofactors calcium and phospholipid, as we also did in the study on the tiger-snake clade consisting of Hoplocephalus, Notechis, Paroplocephalus and Tropidechis in addition to other Australian snakes such as brown snakes and the ontogenetic change in the venom and overseas snakes including boomslangs (Dispholidus typus) and twig snakes (Thelatornis mossambicus),