A Utah researcher, speaking to the American Chemical Society, had a good word Monday for garden variety spiders - their venom has been found to have potential medical benefits.
Venom from poisonous spiders such as the black widow has been studied for years, said Hunter Jackson, president and chairman of Natural Product Sciences Inc. The laboratory is located in the University of Utah's Research Park.But only recently has venom from ordinary spiders encountered in the garden or basement been shown to possess possible benefits for treating human illness.
Jackson was one of two scientists at the society's 201st annual meeting who gave details of their work on spider-venom compounds they said show promise as treatments for some neurological disorders.
Jackson said brain damage from stroke of-ten is caused by action of a substance known as glutamate which normally facilitates nerve transmission in the brain. However, when the blood supply or oxygen is cut off, the glutamate becomes toxic to brain cells, he said.
Glutamate antagonists, chemicals that block the toxic effects, have been found in spider venom and have been synthesized. Jackson said his experiments with such toxins in animal models indicate they are effective in preventing the brain-tissue damage that follows a cutoff of blood supply or oxygen.
They also appear to be effective anti-convulsants and therefore of potential use in treating epileptic seizures, he said.
"Results to date suggest that this class of compounds is free of the side effects that have prevented the clinical use of other glutamate antagonists," Jackson said.
"We are hopeful, therefore, that spiders may prove our unlikely benefactors in treating or preventing some of the most serious and intractable of neurological disorders."
Jeffrey Ives of Groton, Conn., described the action of venom compounds from a common spider, Age-lenopsis aperta, and said they offer a new chemical model for the design of potent glutamate antagonists.