UNDER SPOTLIGHT: A breed of funnel-web spider native to the Darling Downs has venom that is prove to be effective at killing melanoma cells, as well as cells taken from facial tumours on Tasmanian devils.
UNDER SPOTLIGHT: A breed of funnel-web spider native to the Darling Downs has venom that is prove to be effective at killing melanoma cells, as well as cells taken from facial tumours on Tasmanian devils.

Cancer-killing venom found in Darling Downs spider

A BREED of funnel-web spider native to the Darling Downs has venom that has proven to be effective for killing melanoma cells, as well as cells taken from facial tumours on Tasmanian devils.

Scientists from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute were part of an international team that isolated a compound from the venom of the Darling Downs funnel-web spider, otherwise known as Hadronyche infensa.

It is believed to be the first time the spider-derived peptide has been found to have anti-cancer properties in melanoma and Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) cells.

The findings mean the compound could potentially become the basis for a new treatment for DFTD and melanoma in future.

The study was led by QIMR Berghofer researchers Dr Maria Ikonomopoulou and Dr Manuel A. Fernandez-Rojo, along with collaborators from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland.

The researchers tested the peptide, which is very similar to the known peptide from the Brazilian spider Acanthoscurria gomesiana, in a series of laboratory experiments.

Dr Maria Ikonomopoulou, who led the study, said the early results were 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," Dr Ikonomopoulou said.

"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.

"When we tested the Australian spider peptide on human melanoma cells in the laboratory, it killed the majority of them. We also found the peptide slowed the growth of melanomas in mice."

The Darling Downs funnel-web spider was first identified in 1964.

Like many funnel-web species, both sexes of the Darling Downs funnel-web have a shiny black carapace, dark brown to black legs, chelicerae and abdomen.

It is found in eastern Australia, ranging from southeast Queensland to northeast New South Wales.

Dr Ikonomopoulou and Dr Fernandez-Rojo also tested the compound 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," she said.

"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."


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