Could the secrets of spider venom help design new drugs?
Animal venom has long been used in medicine. While the industry used to focus on snake venom, spiders are now under intense examination.
The two types work in very different ways; snake venom targets the cardiovascular system, while spider venom aims for the nervous system.
Scientists already know that arachnid venom causes a breakdown in the function of ion channels. These channels must be able to open and close at specific times in order to control muscles and other critical bodily processes.
When spider venom enters a body, it disrupts the usual ion channel flow, resulting in paralysis and sometimes death. Focusing on the relationship between these channels and venom could be the ticket to a revolutionary new treatment.
Research into spider venom has been ongoing for the past few decades, but much of it has revolved around the effects of neurotoxins. This has contributed to the development of successful insecticides, but drug-related uses are still being investigated.
Using spider venom to treat diseases of the human nervous system requires a deeper understanding of the venom’s components. A new study from the University of Bern’s Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE), in Switzerland, combines years of such research to prove just how complex the venom really is.
The venom of Cupiennius salei — more commonly known as the tiger wandering spider — is the study’s prime focus. It is a relatively large spider with a leg span of around 10 centimeters and is usually found in Central America. When it catches prey, it does so by ambushing and releasing venom, rather than spinning a web.