Australian Team Heralds New Treatment for Excruciating Box Jellyfish Stings

SYDNEY A potential antidote to a potentially lethal box jellyfish sting has been discovered by Australian researchers.

The box jellyfish carries enough venom to kill more than 60 people. It is one of the most dangerous marine animals in Australia’s waters. Its tentacles have millions of stinging cells. Each one contains a tiny harpoon connected to a venom-filled bulb. The pain they inflict is excruciating, and causes skin to die. If the dose of venom is large enough, it can lead to cardiac arrest and death within minutes.

Scientists in Sydney have used genome editing, where DNA is manipulated, to find a ‘molecular antidote’ that blocks the symptoms of a sting if applied within 15 minutes.

Associate Professor Greg Neely said there have been successful trials on rodents.

That was the eureka moment was that this actually could work as an antidote and it is also safe. Well, the drug is already known to be safe in humans, so now we just have to basically show efficacy for jellyfish venom. So it could be quickly, within a year or two, he said.

Scientists believe the drug will stop skin dying and the intense pain when applied, but they do not know yet if it will prevent a heart attack.

The research has been published in the science journal Nature Communications.

However, the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Service said there was a risk the new therapy could stimulate the stinging cells and cause them to inject “more venom” into the body and potentially trigger a heart attack. It believes the preferred first treatment for jellyfish stings is vinegar.

Box jellyfish are also found in Indonesia, Thailand, parts of Africa and the Gulf of Mexico.

Source: Voice of America