Deadly Spider Venom Used in Breast Cancer Trial

Venom from deadly funnel-web spiders and tarantulas could be used to kill breast cancer cells, under an Australian trial.

Researchers at the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience hope the complex mix of molecules in the venom could offer a natural solution to breast cancer treatment.

Dr. David Wilson has stockpiled venom from the fangs of up to 10 Australian funnel-webs for the two-year trial. His team will isolate up to 300 molecules in the venom and expose them to cancer cells to see how they react.

Wilson said spider venom contained molecules that have evolved to perform specific functions over millions of years. "They are designed to target very specific sites and we are hoping that some of these molecules target cancer cells."

The research was revealed Monday as Australians mark Pink Ribbon Day, which raises money for breast cancer prevention programs, support services and research.

Dr. Norelle Daly said the spider research, funded by the National Breast Cancer Foundation, was in its early stages. Venom molecules are used in chronic pain prevention, and scorpion venom has also been shown to bind to cancer cells in mice.

Scientists make the cells glow, helping surgeons tell the difference between brain tumor cells and normal cells. "We are hoping spider toxins will do the same thing for breast cancer, or do even more and kill the breast cancer cells," Daly said.

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