June 28, 2024 at 3:26 pm

New Antivenom Should Take The Fear Out Of Being Bitten By A Black Widow

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Shutterstock

If you live in the northern hemisphere, there are only a couple of medically significant spider bites that should give you pause.

And even with those two, the symptoms are typically manageable in healthy adults.

I know it’s not like that everywhere in the world (looking at you, Australia).

Now, people in Europe can sleep even easier, because of this advancement in antivenom for European black widow bites.

The European black widow (Latrodectus tredecimguttatus) is mostly found in the Mediterranean region of Europe, but rising temperatures have caused at least some of the species to migrate north.

Source: Shutterstock

This has caused scientists and researchers to want better antivenom to treat the painful bites. They’re rarely deadly, but they do cause a pretty unpleasant experience.

Black widow venom contains a neurotoxin called alphalatrotoxin. It attacks the nervous system and causes symptoms like pain, hypertension, headache, and nausea.

The current antivenom uses antibodies derived from horses, and are tricky to source. Some patients also experience bad reactions.

These scientists from Germany wanted to make one using human antibodies, and they say the results are looking promising.

“For the first time, we present human antibodies which show neutralization of black widow spider venom in a cell-based assay. This is the first step to replace the horse sera that are still used to treat the severe symptoms after a black widow spider bite.”

Source: Shutterstock

They developed the antibody using phage display, a lab technique that identifies antibodies using bacteriophages – viruses that infect bacteria.

Antibody genes are inserted into the DNA of phages, which causes them to display relevant protein on the surfaces. They’re then exposed to a target antigen, in this case, the alphalatrotoxin molecules in the venom.

They found that 45 of 75 generated antibodies were able to neutralize the toxins in a petri dish.

One antibody in particular, MRU44-4-A1, was found to have “outstandingly high neutralization.”

Source: Shutterstock

The team is hoping to use a similar technique to develop antibodies to treat other diseases and maladies.

“In another project, we have shown that we can develop human antibodies to treat diphtheria whic h are effective in in vivo studies. We intend to take the same steps for the black widow antivenom antibodies. This is especially important because with the invasion of the spiders into new habitats, the incidence of latrodectism and the need for therapeutic alternatives might increase over the next years.”

This all sounds like very positive news.

Especially for folks who like to play with spiders.

Thought that was fascinating? Here’s another story you might like: Why You’ll Never See A Great White Shark In An Aquarium