Snake Venom’s Unexplored Potential?

July 30, 1980 a young herpetologist was admitted into hospital following a lethal strike from a Common krait snake of the genus Bungarus. Following admission into St. Francis Medical Centre, his future was unforeseeable. Krait snakes typically deliver perilous bites inducing neurotoxic with reported venom yields for the snake ranging from 8-20 mg, and so it comes as no surprise that without rapid treatment administered, the lethality rate can reach up to 80%. However, the 24-year old reportedly survived the envenomation with the simple treatment of another man’s blood.


Born in 1910, William Haast began self immunizing against venom from various snakes in September of 1948. ‘Bill’ Haast began his programme with a weakened solution of Cobra venom injected in very little doses, however by June 2011 he died at the age of one-hundred having survived 172 snake bites (of which a blue Krait died ten days after envenoming Haast).Throughout his lifetime, Haast has been accredited for saving the lives of up to two dozen snake bite victims around the world by donating his highly immunized blood.

Our bodies have magnificently evolved to survive. The job is best done characteristically through the immune system as immunoglobulins are adequately produced in response to the presence of an antigen. It is a reaction that, as a species, we have learnt to utilise, and are resultantly now able to prevent some of the most life-threatening diseases, such as tetanus and hepatitis B. A process that lies parallel to vaccinations is the procedure of producing anti-venom. In the late nineteenth-century, Albert Calmette began to ‘milk’ venomous snakes to extract and isolate their venom and then would inject the product into horses which would then trigger their immune-response and build up an immunity to the antigens through the production antibodies that would peak in the bloodstream. The blood of the horse would then be used in treatments of anti-venom serum to save the lives of people who had been exposed to the specific venom. A process, that has been modified slightly and is still in practice today, that lightly mimics the method of the immune-system. In the same way, as a result of injecting himself with sub-fatal doses of venom, it is likely that Haast’s bloodstream produced specific antibodies to counteract the presence of the antigens belonging to the venom molecules he was injecting. Resultantly, through direct transfusion Haast was able to donate his own blood to save several lives.

The overwhelmingly positive effects of self immunization compelled Haast to advance his project, particularly as a man living in a world that was still facing the terror of Polio face-on. Acknowledging the likeness of symptoms from a polio sufferer and the symptoms of a Cobra envenomed victim, a belief stemmed from him. Haast was convinced that the use of Cobra venom could possibly be used to treat the disease.Working in union with researchers at the university of Miami, and several victims of polio where given the cobra anti-venom treatment.

Gene Hancock was a survivor of Polio who reportedly was treated with Cobra venom in Miami (c.1950)

Scientific research ensued during the 1970’s when a Miami doctor partnered with Haast to develop medications to treat against ailments such as Parkinson’s disease and arthritis using snake-venom, however this research was prohibited in 1981, by the FDA on the basis that the medications had not been documented as safe for humans.

Through mithridatism, there is no denying that Haast was able to build a partial, yet distinctive immunity to the many different proteins and enzymes that make snake venom venomous. Although, due to fuzzy borders and ethical quandary of research between human subjects and potentially lethal doses of venom, the scientific examination on self immunization is understandably limited. Nevertheless it is inevitable not to wonder how extensive the potential of snake venom properties may be.