Tarantula venom could help muscular dystrophy, pain and more

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Biophysicists from University of Buffalo plan to study tarantula venom for treatment of muscular dystrophy (MD). The company – Rose Pharmaceuticals – named after the laboratory’s resident tarantula has been investigating the peptide GsMTx4 in tarantula venom that could help other diseases, including atrial fibrillation, neuropathy, sickle cell anemia, and Parkinson’s disease.

Researchers first plan to study muscular dystrophy, a condition for which there is no known cure. Muscular dystrophy causes muscle weakness, delays in motor skill development, and can become worse over time. The scientists will then move forward, studying tarantula venom for treatment of neuropathic pain and atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm).

The discovery of peptide in tarantula venom that could cure disease comes from Fredrick Sachs, PhD, professor of physiology and biophysics at UB. The peptide is known as GsMTx4. Dr. Sacks hopes the FDA will approve use of the peptide in humans within two years.

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The peptide from tarantula venom, GxMTx4, has been found to increase muscle strength in mice, and has been studied extensively. The drug caused no toxicity, and has not been found to cause mortality or morbidity.

Rose Pharmaceuticals has a patent on the drug derived from tarantula venom, and are now focused on delivery methods. There are no similar drugs that act the same way. Sachs says “Unlike most drugs, GsMTx4 seems to generate only positive side effects. In addition to its effectiveness in MD, it inhibits atrial fibrillation, a cardiac arrhythmia that affects 2 million Americans, and for which there currently is no reliable drug therapy.

A second use of GsMTx4, studied by research groups in Korea and UC San Francisco shows that the tarantula venom peptide can stop pain originating in nerve fibers, known as neuropathy, or neuropathic pain. “This therapy is at least half as effective as morphine, but does not act on the brain, only at the site of increased sensitivity,” said Sachs.

Another application for tarantula venom includes treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Robert Punkett MD, a researcher at UB has shown that the peptide in tarantula venom stimulates the growth of neurons, making it a potentially useful treatment. The GxMTx4 peptide targets ion channels.

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