The VIPER Institute was originally established within the University of Arizona College of Medicine in 2007, as an Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) Center of Excellence. Beginning in 2018 it was housed in the University of Arizona’s BIO5 Institute. With affiliated scientists and clinicians around the world, VIPER members studied the effects of venom – from spiders, snakes, and scorpions – on people and on animals.
VIPER's most widely recognized work involved the clinical management of venom injury. This included design and coordination of clinical trials of antivenom for scorpion sting, pit viper bite, and coral snake bite in the United States, and collaborative work developing snake, spider, bee and scorpion antivenoms in Latin America, Europe, and Africa. Faculty and staff of VIPER coordinated the Antivenom Index, a shared effort involving zoos and poison control centers across North America, and they worked closely with US FDA scientists to improve our understanding and use of foreign antivenom products for treatment of bites by non-native venomous snakes. They also collaborated with veterinarians in the development of protocols and products for care of companion animals, livestock and zoo animals bitten or stung during encounters with native venomous wildlife.
VIPER's laboratory scientists and collaborators developed and applied new research methods to improve our understanding of what venom does to the body. This included teaming up with colleagues at the Institute of Biotechnology (UNAM, Cuernavaca, Mexico) to found the Panamerican Lymphotoxinology Taskforce, a transdisciplinary project that expanded our understanding of how the body processes venom after it is injected via fang or stinger. The taskforce enabled international scholars, including Fulbright fellows, to share methods for detecting and measuring the presence of venom in the body. Venom was measured in blood serum and in the body tissues of living patients, and it was shown to be detectable post mortem in cases where cause of death needed to be established. New models of cellular injury were developed in cultured cells, showing the impact of antivenom treatment on injury by venom.