World / Science & Health

Australian scientists find antidote for deadly box jellyfish sting


Australian researchers believe they have found an antidote to a sting from the world’s most venomous creature, the much-feared box jellyfish.

Researchers at the University of Sydney had been investigating how the venom is so deadly that one box jellyfish can kill as many as 60 people.

The team noticed the venom needs cholesterol to kill human cells, and decided to test whether existing drugs could stop it.

“Since there are lots of drugs available that target cholesterol,” said lead author Raymond Lau, the team tried one out.

“It worked,” he said. “It’s a molecular antidote.”

Running tests using human cells and mice, the team found it could stop the tissue scarring and pain that are associated with the sting — as long as the medicine was injected within 15 minutes.

Stings from box jellyfish — which can be smaller than a fingernail or up to 3 meters long, depending on the species — can cause acute muscular pain, violent vomiting, feelings of “impending doom,” hair that stands on end, strokes, heart failure and death within minutes.

There are at least 50 species of box jellyfish but only a few have been confirmed to be involved in human deaths, and some pose no serious threat at all.

So far the researchers have only tested the sting from the larger, deadlier species.

“We know the drug will stop the necrosis, skin scarring and the pain completely when applied to the skin,” said Neely, an associate professor.

“We don’t know yet if it will stop a heart attack. That will need more research, and we are applying for funding to continue this work.”

The team hopes that eventually a topical cream or spray can be developed to prevent stings that are thought to kill dozens of people each year and hospitalize thousands more.