Antivenin–drop for drop, some of the most valuable and costly substance in the world.

 

Perhaps creatures such as venomous snakes aren’t a part of our everyday world.  The likelihood of suffering a strike with potentially fatal consequences dwindles down to a freak article in the newspaper. Yet venom researchers don’t share this kind of nonchalance. The injection of venom into the human body is a serious medical emergency, and in the case of a venomous snakebite, antivenin is the treatment.

 

Venom is perhaps the most crucial component of antivenin, as paradoxical as that may seem. Be spared the complex biochemical matrix of snake venom which makes an organic chemistry textbook in itself. Venom does not come from plants or necrotic biomatter. Attempts to create a synthetic venom have not as yet resulted in a product strong enough for use in antivenin. There is still only one place where venom can be gathered–straight from the fangs of the snake itself.

 

The process of extracting venom from a snake is commonly called milking. Don’t worry about the snake. These precious reptiles are well cared for in serpentariums and laboratories around the world, and the milking process is not harmful. Venomous snakes can produce a virtually infinite amount of venom in their lifetimes through special glands much like salivary glands. Thus the milking process does not rob the snake of its venom supply.

 

Topping the list of the snakes with the most powerful venom in the world is the taipan of Australia.  In 1950, a bite from a taipan was almost absolutely fatal. Treatments existed, including the antivenin for similarly toxic venoms. But nothing would quite do the trick like a unique antivenin made from pure taipan venom itself. This was easier speculated than executed. Taipans were not being kept for milking purposes at that time. Without the venom, there could be no antivenin. Yet if an antivenin could be made, the chances that a bite victim would recover launched to a cautious 75%–infinitely better than zero percent!

 

At 10:30 on the morning of July 28, 1950, Keith Budden, a 20 year old snake enthusiast and budding herpetologist, was searching the Australian wilderness in search of a taipan. He knew the great interest that antivenin researchers and scientists in general had in studying the venom of this snake. Moreover, Budden focused on the need for an antivenin to save his fellow Australians from further casualties. Keith Budden was certainly no coward, nor was he crazy. He was devoted to the study of snakes and was as qualified as anyone to undertake this task.

 

While poking around outside a garbage dump on the outskirts of Cairns, Budden found himself stepping on a six-foot long taipan. Terrified, the taipan reared up and struck Budden’s thick boot. Budden managed to seize the snake behind the head. Holding tightly to his precious catch, Budden managed to hail down a passing truck. He asked the driver to take him and the taipan to a snake expert of his acquaintance, who would be able to identify the snake with complete certainty. Budden held on to the taipan for the entire two-hour journey.

 

The snake expert confirmed that the snake was indeed the first captive taipan and hurried to get a sack where the taipan would be placed for the safety and comfort of the men and the taipan. Lowering the snake into the sac, Budden eased his iron grip for a split second–and the taipan struck his left hand twice. Budden refused to let the fact that he had been bitten by death itself keep him from the important business of getting his catch to the appropriate researchers.

 

Concerned first for the welfare of his precious taipan to the very end, Keith Budden passed away as a result of the bites he received. Budden’s taipan, however, went on to be milked. Its venom was studied and the foundations of an antivenin were established. Through his own sacrifice, Keith Budden brought about the treatment and the recovery of many others bitten by the taipan. Budden is an excellent example of a true hero–a man driven by an almost blinding passion to do well for his fellow man. Sixty years later, Keith Budden is not forgotten.