Feature

Stopping the sting

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Science  09 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6415, pp. 631-635
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6415.631

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Summary

Angel Yanagihara of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu has spent 20 years studying the venom of box jellyfish and how they kill their victims. Her studies have shown that the venom contains proteins that puncture red blood cells and release potassium, disrupting the electrical rhythms that keep the heart beating; she has developed products to help counter the sting, which she hands out for free in countries where many stings occur. But nobody has independently replicated Yanagihara's methods and findings or tested her products. Some jellyfish researchers say other compounds in the venom are the real killers and that different remedies—or none at all—are more likely to work. Research that would resolve the debates is scarce; funders prefer to focus on bigger public health problems. But Yanagihara thinks the stings exact a much higher death toll than most people assume; her team is trying to prove that in a study now underway in the Philippines.

  • * Yao-Hua Law is a science journalist in Kuala Lumpur.