Jellyfish Researcher Brings Sting Relief to Market
A University of Hawaii researcher today announced that a jellyfish sting treatment that she has been developing for years is finally available for public sale.
"Sting No More" is a cream and spray for jellyfish stings, launched by Alatalab Solutions, a company created by Angel Yanagihara (director of the Pacific Cnidaria Research Lab and a researcher at the Pacific Biosciences Research Center) and the Department of Tropical Medicine at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at UH.
Yanagihara grew up in a military family, attending 12 schools in 12 years, traveling all over the world and learning to speak five languages. She did six years of coursework for her PhD in biochemistry at the Georgetown University School of Medicine, finishing it at the University of Hawaii when she and her husband moved to Hawaii to be closer to her in-laws.
It was while swimming in Waikiki where she found her calling. Painfully.
"I was out swimming at dawn and ignored good advice from a lady beachgoer... she said 'Don't go, you'll get stung,' so I got stung," she recounted on our radio show.
Yanagihara passed out from a severe reaction to the sting, and was treated on site by an ambulance and got help from the staff at the Waikiki Aquarium. She thought she'd gotten through the worst of it, but while driving back up to Manoa, the jellyfish venom started acting up again.
"It came back on full throttle, in fact worse than it was on the beach, and I was bedridden in agony for three days," she recalls. "Pride kept me from going to the ER, but it it certainly got my full attention... as a biochemst I'm all about deconstructing mysterious mixtures and figuring out how they work."
That led to her first jellyfish research grant (funded by the Hawaii Community Foundation) in 1997, and Yanagihara has since built a career dedicated to jellyfish, including publishing over a dozen papers, securing a patent, countless media appearances, and a TEDxHonolulu talk.
Her focus on jellyfish stings and the toxins in the venom they deliver has made her a renowned expert on treating them. She was contacted by famous long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad in 2012 to ask for help with a planned swim from Havana to Key West. Nyad's earlier attempts had been thwarted by box jellyfish stings. Yanagihara, working with Nyad's medical team from the University of Miami, developed new ways to prevent and treat jellyfish stings. Yanagihara also participated in the swim itself as Nyad's jellyfish expert and diver, swimming perimeter sweeps around her and diving down every 45 minutes.
The next year, Yanagihara again provided her expertise to Nyad's medical team and acted as the swimmer's "dusk-to-dawn jellyfish safety diver," swimming and diving at night across the Florida Straits and regularly applying a "sting-stopper" ointment that she had developed that was designed to prevent the stinging cells in jellyfish tentacles from discharging as well to treat any potential stings.
That ultimately successful and historic 2013 crossing was arduous and hit many stumbling blocks, but jellyfish stings were not among them.
These technologies are the subject of several patent applications, and are only some of the treatments and products Yanagihara has developed. But shepherding specialized research work through to commercialization isn't always easy, and building Alatalab Solutions to reach today's debut of "Sting No More" took a lot of work.
"We [university faculty] are left one by one to fight this gladiator mill of various obstacles," she told us in 2013. "With all this new focus on innovation as an economic engine for Hawaii, there needs to be more than lip service towards the actual productive PI (principal investigators) on the ground here in Hawaii."
But Yanagihara persevered, and you can now buy "Sting No More" online. The protype product is described as a "mil-spec" formulation as it is being manufactured for the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). The military's product is being manufactured at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
"UH Hilo College of Pharmacy has been a part of this project and has manufactured and packaged all the product for the combat dive school divers," Yanagihara says.
But the same formulation is being produced for the commercial market by a Hilo-based contracted pharmaceutical manufacturer. The sting relief cream is a hypoallergenic, non-greasy, maximum concentration formula packaged in 5 mL foil packs and with a shelf life of six months. There is also a spray formulation available as well.
"As a world leader in venom and toxin research, we take pride in offering laboratory research-based, pharmaceutical-grade options for rapid relief from jellyfish stings and fire ant bites,"reads the Sting No More website. "We are dedicated to improving sting outcomes and serving the needs of our customers, as well as clinicians and first responders, by developing effective solutions to address severe and challenging stings."
For more information, visit StingNoMore.com.
Bonus: Listen to our conversation in 2013 with Yanagihara and Kelly Niide from the Waikiki Aquarium:
Photos by Keoki Stender, Laura Aguon, and Bob Hartwick, courtesy the University of Hawaii.