Health: Putting the bite on skin cancer

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NOTORIOUS as the world’s deadliest spider after notching up 13 fatalities, Sydney’s funnel web spider is getting a make-over as a potential life-saver.

Researchers in Queensland have discovered that a compound extracted from the spider is highly effective in killing skin cancer cells.

The research was led by Dr Maria Ikonomopoulou and Dr Manuel A Fernandez-Rojo from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, who say it could potentially lead to new melanoma treatments.

“When we tested the Australian spider peptide on human melanoma cells in the laboratory, it killed the majority of them,” Dr Ikonomopoulou said.

“We also found the peptide slowed the growth of melanomas in mice.”

Dr Ikonomopoulou said they took their inspiration from research into a Brazilian spider which had also been found to have anti-cancer properties.

But importantly, the peptide in the Aussie spider’s venom was found to be less harmful to healthy skin surrounding a tumour than its Brazilian cousin.

Even more quirkily, the peptide kills the mysterious facial tumours that have bedevilled Tasmanina devils and led to massive decline in their numbers in the last decadex.

“This research is still at a very early stage, but these results are very promising. There are many years of work ahead, but we hope that this compound could in the future be developed into a new treatment for melanoma and DFTD,” says Dr Ikinomopoulous.

“These findings prompt us to continue investigating the potential of bioactive compounds derived from venom to treat melanoma, liver diseases, obesity and metabolism, as well as against the Tasmanian devil tumors in collaboration with the biopharmaceutical industry.”

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