Bleeding during a surgery can be extremely dangerous, especially if the patient has taken anti-coagulant drugs to thin their blood. A new combination of a nanofiber hydrogel and — wait for it — snake venom may be the best material to quickly stop bleeding in these situations, according to a new study by Rice University scientists.

The hydrogel, SB50, incorporates a venom produced by two species of South American pit viper called batroxobin. It can be injected as a liquid but will quickly turn to a gel that conforms to the site of a wound and promotes clotting within a few seconds. Tests showed the material stopped a wound from bleeding in as little as six seconds, and prodding the wound minutes later did not cause reopening.

“It’s interesting that you can take something so deadly and turn it into something that has the potential to save lives,” said Rice chemist Jeffery Hartgerink, in a press release.

Baxroxobin is not a new discovery — it was first recognized as a coagulant, a substance that encourages blood clotting, in 1936. It has been used in various therapies, but most notably it can be used as a diagnostic tool to determine blood-clotting time in the presence of heparin, an anti-coagulant drug often used in surgeries.

“From a clinical perspective, that’s far and away the most important issue here,” Hartgerink said. “There’s a lot of different things that can trigger blood coagulation, but when you’re on heparin, most of them don’t work, or they work slowly or poorly. That obviously causes problems if you’re bleeding.”

Hartgerink said that herapin works by blocking the function of thombrin, which is responsible for beginning a chain reaction that leads to the clotting of blood. Batroxobin is similar in function to thrombin, but it is not inhibited by heparin. This is why using batroxobin as an alternative allows medical professionals to evade the potential issue of failed clotting.

The researchers tested several options of their hydrogel — one with batroxobin, one without it, batroxobin without the hydrogel, and other current clinical hemostats. None were as effective as the winning combination, especially in the presence of anti-coagulants.

“To be clear, we did not discover nor do any of the initial investigations of batroxobin,” Hartgerink said. “Its properties have been well-known for many decades. What we did was combine it with the hydrogel we’ve been working on for a long time.”

He said that the SB50 hydrogel takes the considerable clotting capabilities of this snake venom and delivers it in a localized hydrogel that is both easily delivered and helps prevent possible unwanted side effects that occur with using batroxobin alone. The hydrogel will require FDA approval before clinical use.

Source: Kumar V, Wickremasinghe N, Shi S, Hartgerink J. Nanofibrous Snake Venom Hemostat. ACS Biomaterials Science and Engineering. 2015.