People don‘t really like spiders. There are a lot of people who are afraid of them and even those of us who don‘t care that much don‘t feel comfortable being close to potentially venomous spiders. However, scientists from The University of Queensland found that spider venom could be exactly what it takes to a devastating form of childhood epilepsy.
Of course, it is not just any old spider venom. It is a peptide in particular spider venom can restore the neural deficiencies that trigger seizures associated with Dravet syndrome. This condition is devastating type o childhood epilepsy, typically starting around six months of age. Dravet syndrome I characterized by seizures that are often triggered by hot temperatures or a simple fever. Scientists found that around 80 % of the Dravet syndrome cases are caused by a mutation in a gene called SCN1A and they can be life-threatening. Now scientists performed some experiments with mice to see if spider venom could be of any help.
When SCN1A doesn’t work properly, sodium channels in the brain don’t work well either. And so neural deficiencies develop and cause seizures. Testing with mice models revealed that a peptide from spider venom targets the specific channels affected by Dravet syndrome, restoring the function of these brain regions and treating seizures. In fact, seizures can be completely eliminated with this kind of treatment. Currently, Dravet syndrome is treated with anticonvulsant medications, which pretty much addresses the symptom only and not the cause. Spider venom does hold a tremendous promise, because it is already used to treat other kinds of central nervous system conditions.
Spider venom is actually a good candidate for a variety or nervous system diseases and conditions. Professor Steven Petrou, one of the scientists working with spider venom, said: “Spiders kill their prey through venom compounds that target the nervous system, unlike snakes for example, whose venom targets the cardiovascular system. Millions of years of evolution have refined spider venom to specifically target certain ion channels, without causing side effects on others, and drugs derived from spider venoms retain this accuracy”. And now scientists hope to use spider venom to create medicine for Dravet syndrome, which has been notoriously difficult to treat.
Taking things from nature for modern medicine is not new. But it looks like scientists are dwelling deeper into this field. There are a lot of natural compounds that could benefit us if they were researched more. And of course, later that peptide from spider venom would be synthesized for medical use – you cannot milk spiders forever.
Source: The University of Queensland