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The Human Antivenom Project

Tim Friede always had a fascination for dangerous animals: spiders, scorpions, and especially venomous snakes, which he collected. Nineteen years ago, Friede embarked on a self-immunization project to build up his body's self-defense against snake venom to protect himself from his pets. That's good, because his cobras, rattlesnakes, and mambas occasionally bite. Friede has been bitten around 200 times. He extracted venom from his snakes and injected himself with it, starting with a tiny amount and raising it over time.     

He also began taking what he calls “Darwinian notes.” On December 12, 2001, he wrote, “Since dying was no fun, took off ’til December.” That day he injected himself with the venom from the same cobra that nearly killed him, and he spiked his blood every few weeks from then on. He rated pain on a numerical scale, with entries ranging from 1 to 1,000. A common symptom was “3x3 swelling”; rarer was “swelling from knee to ass,” “hives over whole body,” and “anaphylactic shock” (though he suffered the last of these 12 times). Within a year of starting, he was letting live snakes bite him to demonstrate his immunity. Over time he could distinguish how much venom they’d injected simply by his body’s reaction. He grew to like water cobras, because their neurotoxic venom blocked his nerve cells, making a bite less painful and “very easy to beat.” He hated Cape cobras and rattlesnakes, whose necrotic venom dissolved his muscles.

Along the way, Friede developed a sort of stuntman-next-door persona by posting videos online. Some were macho, like the one where a drunk friend howls in disbelief as he films a black mamba double-nipping a sober Friede. But in most of the clips, Friede tries earnestly to share how self-­immunization really works. He was just your average enthusiastic guy in a Slayer T-shirt, admiring nature’s deadliest snakes by letting them bite him. He recorded the moments after a Mojave rattlesnake tagged him by surprise and after he’d solicited a bite from a black mamba to help “a girl with a school project.”

With Friede's growing notoriety came the idea that his unique body composition could help scientists develop a universal antivenom against snake bites. Few scientists were interested until immunologist Jacob Glanville, who has spent years working on a universal flu vaccine, discovered Friede. Here was a man who went way beyond any ethical scientific experiments on humans to alter his own antibodies, and the two men are now working together to unlock the secrets of Friede's immunities. Read their stories at Outside Online. -via Digg

(Image credit: safaritravelplus)

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