Improving Anti-Venom Donor Horses’ Welfare

Anti-venoms have been derived from horses since 1884. Learn how researchers are working to improve these horses’ welfare.

If you ever receive treatment for a poisonous snakebite, especially outside the United States, you can probably thank a horse.

Anti-venoms have been derived primarily from horses since French immunologist and physician Albert Calmette first commercially developed them in 1884. In 130 years, little has evolved in the drug’s production methods, with horses still receiving massive quantities of venom and adjuvants—“helper drugs”—to create antibodies for anti-venom production. A group of Indian researchers recently set out to find ways to improve those horses' welfare while still maintaining the efficacy of this life-saving drug.

“Horses can withstand high doses of toxins/venoms administered repeatedly,” said Arun Waghmare, PhD, researcher in the Antitoxins and Sera Department of Haffkine Biopharmaceutical Corporation Limited in Pune, Maharashtra, India, working in collaboration with microbiologists from the University of Pune. “The level of antibody in horses is elevated rapidly,” making horses a good producer for the treatment, he added.

Horses are also more practical for anti-venom production than other animals, due to their size and versatility. “Horses are preferred … because they are easy to handle, thrive in all climates, (and) yield large volumes of serum,” Waghmare

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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