Spiders belonging to the Darling Downs funnel-web species can be found throughout eastern Australia, and two out of fourteen recorded people who have been bitten by the venomous arachnid have suffered severe symptoms of poisoning. However, the spider’s poisonous venom may actually do more good for mankind than bad, as Queensland researcher Dr. Maria Ikonomopoulou recently discovered.
The results from a study at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, where venom from the funnel-web spider was extracted and chemically synthesized, showed that it possesses anti-cancerous properties. It was discovered that a peptide in the venom can kill certain melanoma cancer cells and stop them from spreading.
Dr. Maria Ikonomopoulou said that she was pleasantly shocked and surprised that when the peptide from the Australian spider venom was tested, it had such a profound effect against the cancer cells, in contrast to a similar compound from a Brazilian spider.
“It’s very exciting,” she said, in an interview she conducted with the website abc.net.au.
“We found the Australian funnel-web spider peptide was better at killing melanoma cancer cells and stopping them from spreading, and it also didn’t have a toxic effect on healthy skin cells.”
Peptides from the spider venom are now being tested and researched internationally for their antibiotic and anti-cancer properties. Although there are are many years of research ahead, Dr. Ikonomopoulou said that she “hope(s) that this compound could, in the future, be developed into a new treatment for melanoma.”
In the meantime, this discovery might also be able to help treat facial tumors on the Tasmanian devil, a disease that first cropped up in 1986 and has since wiped out around 90 percent of the population of the small mammals in Tasmania.