News Release

Bloody insights: Organs-on-chip ready to help snake venom research

Fewer laboratory animals needed, thanks to imitation blood vessels

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Naturalis Biodiversity Center

A West African carpet viper (Echis ocellatus)


The venom of a West African carpet viper (Echis ocellatus) is one of the four venoms used to test the effect of the new 3D blood vessel model.

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Credit: Wolfgang Wuster

May 30, 2024, Leiden, The Netherlands - A 3D model of imitation blood vessels will make it possible to see exactly how snake venom attacks blood vessels, without having to use laboratory animals. This new research model, called an organ-on-a-chip, was developed by a research team from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, MIMETAS and Naturalis Biodiversity Center.  

Roughly one hundred thousand people die annually from the effects of a snake bite and four times as many sustain chronic injuries. Research into how snake venom works is needed to arrive at a solution, but remains difficult to implement. A research team from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), MIMETAS and Naturalis Biodiversity Center, has now proven for the first time that snake venom can be examined on 3D imitation blood vessels. 

This new approach to 3D imitation blood vessels improves on traditional research methods, such as using laboratory animals or cell cultures, by mimicking human blood vessels. “The advantage of such a blood vessel model for venom research is that it takes into account several important influences that the body faces,” explains venom expert and first author of the study, Mátyás Bittenbinder of VU and Naturalis. “Like the flow of blood, or the construction and shape of a blood vessel.” 

The 3D blood vessel model, called MIMETAS' OrganoReady® Blood Vessel HUVEC, thus contributes to better understanding the damaging effects of snake venom on blood vessels and the rest of the body. “The model provides accurate insight into how toxins attack blood vessels. This knowledge will help us develop better methods to treat snake bites, while also reducing the need to do studies on mice,” says Bittenbinder. 

Effect of venom
The functioning of the blood vessel model was tested with the venom of an Indian cobra (Naja naja), West-African carpet viper (Echis ocellatus), many-banded krait (Bungarus multicinctus) and Mozambique spitting cobra (Naja mossambica). A bite from a venomous snake often causes severe (internal) bleeding. This is because the venom attacks the circulatory system, destroying blood vessels and creating blood clots. Worldwide, scientists are searching for a solution. “If we better understand which substances are in snake venom, we will also know better how to neutralize the toxins,” Bittenbinder explains.

Global problem
Snake bites are a humanitarian crisis that affects millions of people each year but rarely makes the news. It is estimated that between 80,000 and 140,000 people die each year from poisonous snake bites. Another 400,000 survive but become blind or lose a hand, foot, or leg as a result of a bite. 


Additional information, not for publication:

This press release is embargoed until June 4, 2024, 10:00 AM UK Time.

  • This is a joint press release from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, MIMETAS, and Naturalis Biodiversity Center.
  • The article called ‘Bloody insights: using organ-on-chip technology to study haemorrhagic activities of snake venoms on endothelial tubules’ will be published June 4 in Springer Nature.
  • Supporting image and film material can be found in this press kit. Credits are in the file names; please credit them.
  • For substantive questions, please contact first author Mátyás Bittenbinder at or +316 14611808.
  • For general questions, please contact Naturalis' Communications & Partnerships Department at or 071 - 7519 648. Outside office hours, we can be reached for press inquiries at +316 - 35 11 29 99.

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