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Australian Spider Venom Found to Kill Cancer, Leave Healthy Cells Unharmed

Incredible breakthrough discovery made in Australia as toxins kill melanoma cells

By: Jay Greenberg  |@NeonNettle
 on 6th October 2018 @ 12.00pm
scientists have found the venom from the funnel web spider can kill cancer cells © press
Scientists have found the venom from the funnel-web spider can kill cancer cells

Scientists have made a breakthrough discovery in the fight to cure cancer after finding that the venom from a deadly Australian spider can actually kill melanoma cells while leaving the surrounding healthy tissue unharmed.

Researchers at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Austrailia found a peptide from the venom of a Darling Downs funnel-web has anti-cancer properties, capable of destroying melanoma cancer cells when the compound is chemically manipulated.

The new cancer treatment has so far been successfully tested on mice and the Tasmanian Devil and has found to be completely effective in most cases with no negative side effects.

Speaking to ABC News, lead researcher Dr. Maria Ikonomopulou said:

"We found the Australian funnel-web spider peptide was better at killing melanoma cancer cells and stopped them from spreading, and it also didn't have a toxic effect on healthy skin cells."

the venom from deadly australian funnel web spiders can kill melanoma cells while leaving healthy skin unharmed © press
The venom from deadly Australian funnel-web spiders can kill melanoma cells while leaving healthy skin unharmed

According to the Daily Mail, The new cancer treatment was taken from the spider's venom gland but researchers are still trying to determine whether the peptide came from the spider's venom or blood.

Dr. Ikonomopulou said she tested the peptide against a similar compound from a Brazilian spider, which also had anti-cancer properties, in laboratory experiments.

"When we tested the Australian spider peptide on melanoma cells in the laboratory, it killed a majority of them," she told the Brisbane Times

The peptide had been tested on animals including mice and Australia's Tasmanian Devil.

The anti-cancer compound caused a slowed growth of melanoma in mice.

The compound also proved effective in treating facial tumor cells of the endangered Tasmanian Devils. 

Dr. Ikonomopulou said the compound could now be a potential drug to protect the threatened species.  

"The melanoma research is not groundbreaking on a global scale, but it is very interesting to find an Australian spider that has good potential to explore," she said. 

Spider peptides were also being tested of their antibiotic and anti-cancer properties in international research. 

Dr. Ikonomopulou, who began her research at QIMR, is now doing independent research in Spain.  

dr  maria ikonomopulou says the lab tests found that the venom kills cancer cells © press
Dr. Maria Ikonomopulou says the lab tests found that the venom kills cancer cells

What is a funnel web spider?

- Funnel webs are native to the eastern coast of Australia and live in burrows in the ground with 'funnel' entrances, often under rocks or logs

- They're known as some of the most deadly spiders in the world, with 35 known subspecies in Australian alone. Six of those are capable and are known to cause severe injuries to people.

- They have long sharp fangs that can penetrate fingernails and even shoes, and when provoked rear up onto their hind legs and display their fangs

- The glossy dark-colored spiders are active at night and after heavy rain and grip their victims tightly while biting them repeatedly

- They are a medium to large spider with a body length of up to five centimeters, native to the eastern coast of Australia

- One member of the family is the highly venomous Sydney funnel web, Atrax Robustus, found within a 100km radius of the city

- Sydney funnel webs have been responsible for 13 fatal bites, including seven children

- Male Sydney funnel webs are six times more venomous than females, and their painful bites can lead to death in 15 minutes

- Symptoms of envenomation begin with tingling around the mouth, twitching of the tongue, profuse salivating, watery eyes, sweating and muscle spasms

- Hypertension and an elevated heartbeat follow, and when combined with respiratory distress may be very severe and potentially lethal 

- First aid treatment involves a pressure-immobilization bandage, the same treatment as applied to a snake bite

- The entire affected limb should be bandaged firmly and if possible further restricted in movement by the application of a splint

- Antivenom was developed in 1981 and no fatal bites have been reported since then, with victims now able to leave the hospital in one to three days

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