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Researchers Find Tarantula Venom Might Cure Dravet Syndrome, A Rare and Deadly Form of Epilepsy

From an unexpected source.
tarantula, tarantula venom, tarantula venom epilepsy

Brachypelma Klaasi Brachypelma Tarantula

PMI notes that this approach can:

allow doctors and researchers to predict more accurately which treatment and prevention strategies for a particular disease will work in which groups of people. It is in contrast to a one-size-fits-all approach, in which disease treatment and prevention strategies are developed for the average person, with less consideration for the differences between individuals.

Thus far, the study has only been performed on mice, and Petrou says “that look at specific genetic changes like this one show higher rates of success when transferred to human trials compared to traditional animal experiments,” according to Buzzfeed News.

Tarantula venom paralyzes the small invertebrates tarantulas typically prey on, so the effect it has on the brains of those with Dravet syndrome is not surprising, says Petrou. The venom keeps the SCN1A-produced protein sodium channels open.

We are exploiting this effect for clinical use,” said Petrou. “We know already that biology has spent millions of years fine-tuning the action of these peptides in order to incapacitate prey and we thought, ‘Can we use them in a way that might be medically useful?'”

Petrou and his team believe a tarantula venom treatment could not only stop seizures but also reverse developmental disabilities associated with Dravet syndrome if the treatment is applied early enough. Children with Dravet syndrome have a higher risk of sudden death (seizures are frequent, often coming without warning) and appear normal in the first few months after birth, but develop behavioral delays in their second year of life, including:

  • mild to severe mental retardation
  • sleep disturbances
  • personality disorders (including social isolation and frequent mood swings)

Understandably, a development as valuable as this one could go a long way in reducing anxieties in families who have children who are affected.

“We’ve shown a very important proof of concept that if you alter the function of a protein this way with a drug, you can fix seizure controls, you can fix the neurons, and you can fix all of the other things that go wrong related to that,” Petrou says, adding that he and his team will work with companies to develop the tarantula venom into a drug for human trials.

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