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Taking a bite out of stroke

Medicine@Yale, 2008 - May June

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It may seem hard to believe that the rather menacing creature above, the Malayan pit viper, could be good for your health, but a Phase III research study of a compound found in the snake’s venom could provide new hope for stroke victims.

Doctors at Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) are administering ancrod (trade name Viprinex), a drug derived from pit viper venom, to eligible patients who enter the hospital with symptoms of acute ischemic stroke.

In such cases doctors typically administer a clot-breaking agent known as tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, but it must be given no more than three hours after stroke symptoms appear to be effective. Ancrod, which has a potent anticoagulant effect, may be effective up to six hours after symptoms begin. “If ancrod is proven safe and effective,” says Joseph Schindler, M.D., clinical director of the YNHH Stroke Center, “it will double the time frame during which stroke patients can be treated.”

YNHH is the only Connecticut hospital participating in the trial, which is expected to last for one to two years.