Development of a sensitive enzyme immunoassay for measuring taipan venom in serum

S Kulawickrama, Margaret O'Leary, Wayne Hodgson, Simon Brown, Tamara Jacoby, Kathleen Davern, Geoffrey Isbister

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    The detection and measurement of snake venom in blood is important for confirming snake identification, determining when sufficient antivenom has been given, detecting recurrence of envenoming, and in forensic investigation. Venom enzyme immunoassays (EIA) have had persistent problems with poor sensitivity and high background absorbance leading to false positive results. This is particularly problematic with Australasian snakes where small amounts of highly potent venom are injected, resulting in low concentrations being associated with severe clinical effects. We aimed to develop a venom EIA with a limit of detection (LoD) sufficient to accurately distinguish mild envenoming from background absorbance at picogram concentrations of venom in blood. Serum samples were obtained from patients with taipan bites (Oxyuranus spp.) before and after antivenom, and from rats given known venom doses. A sandwich EIA was developed using biotinylated rabbit anti-snake venom antibodies for detection. For low venom concentrations (i.e. <1 ng/mL) the assay was done before and after addition of antivenom to the sample (antivenom difference method). The LoD was 0.15 ng/mL for the standard assay and 0.1 ng/mL for the antivenom difference method. In 11 pre-antivenom samples the median venom concentration was 10 ng/mL (Range: 0.3-3212 ng/mL). In four patients with incomplete venom-induced consumption coagulopathy the median venom concentration was 2.4 ng/mL compared to 30 ng/mL in seven patients with complete venom-induced consumption coagulopathy. No venom was detected in any post-antivenom sample and the median antivenom dose prior to this first post-antivenom sample was 1.5 vials (1-3 vials), including 7 patients administered only 1 vial. In rats the assay distinguished a 3-fold difference in venom dose administered and there was small inter-individual variability. There was small but measurable cross-reactivity with black snake (Pseudechis), tiger snake (Notechis) and rough-scale snake (Tropidechis carinatus) venoms with the assay for low venom concentrations (<1 ng/mL). The use of biotinylation and the antivenom difference method in venom EIA produces a highly sensitive assay that will be useful for determining antivenom dose, forensic and clinical diagnosis.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1510-1518
    Number of pages9
    Issue number8
    Early online date9 Mar 2010
    Publication statusPublished - Jul 2010


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