A protein found in the venom of a South American desert spider is being used to develop a new drug that laboratory studies suggest could become a potent weapon against muscular dystrophy.
University at Buffalo scientist Frederick Sachs and his colleagues discovered the protein in the venom of the Chilean rose tarantula. Tests of the protein on mice found it keeps MD at bay by stopping muscle cells from deteriorating – a debilitating symptom of the typically fatal condition.
Sachs, a professor of physiology and biophysics who has been studying the medical benefits of spider venom for years, said the treatment has yet to be tested in human patients. But it helped the mice in his laboratory experiments to gain strength after 40 days of drug treatment.
Sachs has partnered with Jeff Harvey – a stockbroker from Buffalo whose grandson has muscular dystrophy – to found Tonus Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company devoted to developing the protein as a drug.
Sachs noted the therapy is not a cure for MD. But if it works in humans, it could extend the lives of children with the condition for years or even decades.