From the Dec. 14th Honolulu Star-Advertiser:
It took 14 years, but Angel Yanagihara, a biochemist and assistant research professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Department of Tropical Medicine, Microbiology and Pharmacology, has developed a treatment for painful and possibly life-threatening box jellyfish stings.
The treatment can be used for relief from pain, swelling and redness from stings, and blocks the venom to possibly prevent cardiac arrest and death.
In Hawaii, box jellyfish stings usually result in a strong burning sensation that can last days to months, but stings by other areas’ box jellyfish, like the Australian box jellyfish, can cause cardiac arrest and even death.
“This is the first time we’re addressing deeper tissue problems going on with the venom,” Yanagihara said.
Currently, lifeguards may be equipped with a spray bottle of vinegar, which keeps unfired stinging cells from firing, Yanagihara said, but does not alleviate pain.
The treatment she developed uses zinc gluconate — a molecular inhibitor generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — to block porins, the pore-forming toxins found in all box jellyfish, and has proved effective in tests on human blood and a live animal.
It is being developed for topical and intravenous application and is licensed by Hawaii-based Waterlife Research, which is conducting clinical tests of the treatment.
It is the subject of multiple patent applications in the United States and internationally.
Yanagihara said the treatment could also be used on stings from other jellyfish, corals and anemones.
In August, a topical version of the treatment was applied on Diana Nyad, an American long-distance swimmer, when jellyfish stung her during her fourth unsuccessful attempt to swim 103 miles from Cuba to Florida.
Yanagihara’s interest in box jellyfish venom started in 1997, when she was stung by a swarm of Hawaiian box jellyfish while swimming off Kaimana Beach in Waikiki. She was bedridden for three days with a rash that lasted weeks.
Curious about the biochemistry of the venom that left her so ill, she researched it and found that “no one had reported the proper biochemistry of it and there was no reliable antidote,” she said.
Even now, “what is out there on the market, I say doesn’t work,” she said. “They (the sting treatments) are like a placebo. Perhaps at best are concoctions of vinegar and very insignificant amounts of other agents. But even they do little.”
With a $50,000 grant from the Bradley and Victoria Geist Foundation of the Hawaii Community Foundation, Yanagihara started her research into the box jellyfish venom. She has since expanded to include venom from other jellyfish and is also researching collagen in jellyfish that may have wound-healing properties.
Findings from the box jellyfish research appeared Wednesday in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science.