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November 13, 2015

Spider toxins as a potential treatment for breast cancer

Spiders are frequently treated with fear and contempt but their complex mix of venom molecules, used to kill prey and predators, may offer researchers an extensive and untapped suite of natural molecules to kill breast cancer cells.

With more than 40,000 species of spiders, it is estimated there are in excess of 4 million different toxins in spider venom. Professor Daly hopes to take advantage of this natural compound library by focusing on the underexplored toxin diversity in the venom of the Australian funnel-web spiders and tarantulas. She will screen for toxins with the potential to treat breast cancer.

The rationale behind this approach arises from the fact that venom peptides, in general, have exciting therapeutic potential. This potential is demonstrated by the use of venom peptides in the prevention of chronic pain and the illumination of tumours to assist surgeons in their removal. Professor Daly has access to world-class facilities to isolate and characterise the active toxins from the complex venoms. Given the enormous diversity of spider toxins, this project is expected to identify new therapeutic molecules that target and/or kill breast cancer cells.