This man lets deadly snakes bite him to create vaccines
In all likelihood, you've never been bitten by a snake, or had the threat of it be a part of your everyday life. Yet for many people in the world, any interaction with venomous snake species could spell death. According to a WHO-sponsored study, up to 138,000 people die each year from snake bites, and 400,000 of those that survive are left with permanent disabilities.
Using animal testing, various manufacturers create anti-venom for these bites, but one man has a solution. Tim Friede has subject himself to over 200 bites from live snakes, to become more immune to different species' venom. Through his work, the amateur scientist is hoping to create a human antidote to these bites.
Over 16 years, Friede has been boosted with snake venom over 700 times, including a black mamba. In his home in Wisconsin, USA, he owns a taipan, black mamba, two rattlesnakes and a water cobra.
"I started this because I wanted to self-immunise in case I was bitten while handling my snakes, but when I witnessed the results I realised that this could be used for the greater good," he told Barcroft Media. "Too many people die from snake bites and I know that my vaccine will help them when it is fully developed."
He says that he does suffer from a "real throbbing sensation" but otherwise feels "great" after the bites, once he puts up with the swelling. "I will not stop doing this until the vaccine is in the field or I die," he added.
It is worth noting that in 2011, Tim actually fell into a coma and almost died, following two consecutive cobra bites. In addition to this, he has had to self-amputate the muscle in part of his leg after another cobra bite led to necrosis. "Because it was so bad it's really cool to be at this stage now where I can beat these bites," he said of the incident.
According to venom expert Dr Rachel Currier, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, venomous snake bites are a global health problem. However, she did explain that self-immunisation is an incredibly dangerous method of producing a vaccine, when she spoke to the Independent in 2016:
"Self-immunisation with snake venom is incredibly dangerous.
"Research into snake bite antidotes primarily requires an understanding of the different toxic components which make up venoms. Historically, treatments for snake bites have been produced by hyper-immunising horses or sheep with harmless amounts of venom."
It's not just Tim's health that has been put at risk - but his personal life too. His ex-wife Beth divorced him in 2015 after two decades of marriage.
"The snakes were always first," she said. "Me and the kids never came in first, sometimes not even second. I was always scared of [the snakes] so it was terrifying living with them for nearly 20 years - by the end of it I'd just had enough."
In response to this, he said, "That's three people versus millions and millions."
Tim has recently launched an Indiegogo to help fund his research, hoping to reach a goal of $25,000 one day. According to the page, many manufacturers are discontinuing their vaccine products, and he hopes to offer a solution that can treat multiple types of venom, without the need for any animal cruelty.
"We are making a fully human, thermostabilized, universal antivenom," he writes.
According to the page, he has developed an immunity to various snakes, including cobras, taipans, black mambas, diamondback rattlers, and many others from various continents.
Tim's blood, which supposedly "contains the instructions for a universal, fully human antivenom," is put through "genomic sequencing technologies" to develop a vaccine. It's hoped that by the end of 2018 they can produce a "set of concentrated fully human antibodies".
While this process of self-immunisation is by no means safe, Friede's dedication could one day pay off - helping reduce the staggering death rates. Hopefully one day his plans come to fruition.