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It turns out funnel-web spiders may actually help scientists treat melanoma

Perhaps our eight-legged friends aren’t so bad, after all.

Scientists from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute have extracted a peptide from the venom gland of the Darling Downs funnel-web spider and found it has properties that can kill melanoma and Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) cells.

Peptides, which get their name from the Greek peptós, which means “digested”, are short chains of amino acids monomers linked by peptide bonds. I don’t really know what in the world that means, but what I do know is that peptides are many, and are categorised depending on their origin and function – there are plant peptides, fungal peptides, endocrine peptides and so forth.

What scientists found in our dangerous spider friend is an anti-cancerous peptide that can not only kill melanoma, but also stop it from spreading.

Previous lab experiments found a similar compound in the Brazilian spider Acanthoscurria gomesiana, but according to researchers, what they found in the Aussie eight-legged freak seems to be very promising.

“We decided to test this spider compound because it was very similar in chemical composition to a compound from a Brazilian spider, which was already known to have anti-cancer properties although it had never been tested in devil facial tumour cells,” said Dr Maria Ikonomopoulou, who led the study along with Dr Manuel A. Fernandez-Rojo and a team of collaborators from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland.

“In our laboratory experiments, we found that the Australian funnel-web spider peptide was better at killing melanoma cancer cells and stopping them from spreading than the Brazilian spider peptide. Additionally, the Australian spider peptide did not have a toxic effect on healthy skin cells.”

Ikonomopoulou and Fernandez-Rojo also tested their findings on cells taken from facial tumours on Tasmanian devils.

“Similar to the effect in melanoma cells, we found that the Australian spider peptide killed the DFTD cells, but didn’t affect the healthy cells as much,” Dr Ikonomopoulou said.

“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.”

Their research was published in two separate studies in the journals Scientific Reports and Cell Death Discovery.

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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