If you are one of the 10% of people who suffer from the agony of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hope is at hand. Unfortunately, if you aren’t a fan of spiders, you might not like it. As the continent with the deadliest Tarantula spiders, it seems somehow fitting that the University of Queensland in Australia should be leading the way to discovering how spiders can help relieve pain for IBS suffers.
Professor Richard Lewis from the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience says that gut pain is hard to treat. While collaborator Stuart Brierley of Flinders University says that the problem in treating chronic pain is often the side effects limit the amount of drug that can be taken – long before patients can take enough to the drug to find relief from their pain.
What is IBS
Generally, IBS is described as something that causing stomach pain, farting, diarrhea, and/or constipation. But this doesn’t begin to describe the pain, embarrassment, or general unpleasantness that IBS can cause! The diarrhea is often without warning, constipation can leave suffers in agony and unable to move, and the stomach ‘cramps’ can be debilitating. The worst is that it is relatively unresponsive to pain medication.
Spiders and IBS Treatment
What the team has been looking at how spider venom can inhibit pain receptors. So, while this is not a treatment or a cure, it could be a way to remove one of the worst symptoms of IBS, the debilitating pain.
Researchers have looked at 28 varieties of spiders and discovered that the venom from a Venezuelan Pinkfoot Goliath tarantula has promising potential for being a specialized pain blocker. Of the spiders looked at, this tarantula, known for having an 11-inch/30-centimetre leg-span, has two particular peptides that inhibit the underlying pain. One of these being “particularly potent at reducing the sensory nerves of the bladder and colon and nearly stopping chronic visceral pain in a model of IBS”, according to the research note published by the University.
How is Spider Venom Used?
Venom is a toxin that is injected, with around 150,000 species of animals injecting venom into prey (or as a defense mechanism). Snakes, bees, spiders, even certain types of sea snails, are just some of the venomous creatures in our world.
At this stage, spider venom is currently only extracted to create antivenom for particularly deadly spiders (such as the funnel-web spider which is common in Australia suburbs).
According to the molecular pharmacologist, Dr. Zoltan Takacs, there are still over “20 million venom toxins in nature left to explore.” Dr. Takacs is the inventor of “ Designer Toxins technology” and founder of the World Toxin Bank. His focus is not on only cataloging different venoms but on the ability to mix different venoms– whether than might be elements from different spiders or the venom from multiple species.
Using Venom in Medication
Currently, the number of FDA approved medications that are using venom, or synthetic versions of venom is limited.
- Captopril: Brazillian pit viper snake that lowers blood pressure.
- Ziconotide: Cone snail venom is used to treat severe pain and is delivered into the spine.
- Eptifibatide: Southeastern pygmy rattlesnake is used to reduce the risk of heart attacks. However, this has risky side effects so is not used often.
- Exenatide: Gila monster saliva used to in type II diabetes treatments.
- Batroxobin: Bothrops atrox and Bothrops moojeni pit viper snake venom can be used to stop bleeding or to break up blood clots.
While the research from Professor Lewis, and the team, is the result of 15 years of studying venoms for potential medical applications, as yet few medications are using venoms. However, the ongoing research from Professor Lewis, Dr. Takacs, and others around the world, is providing exciting possibilities for the future.