Brisbane scientists find spider venom may be deadly to melanoma

Researchers in Brisbane have found that the venom of one of Australia’s most dangerous spiders possesses a potent killer of melanoma cells.

Scientists at Australian research institute QIMR Berghofer and the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience made the discovery whilst investigating a peptide found in the Australian funnel-web spider’s venom. The team was inspired by a peptide called Gomesin found in the Brazilian spider Acanthoscurria gomesiana, which is known to have cancer-fighting properties.

Dr Maria Ikonomopoulou, who led the study, says: “In our laboratory experiments we found that the Australian funnel-web spider peptide was better at killing melanoma cancer cells and stopping them from spreading than the Brazilian spider peptide. Additionally, the Australian spider peptide did not have a toxic effect on healthy skin cells. When we tested the Australian spider peptide on human melanoma cells in the laboratory, it killed the majority of them. We also found the peptide slowed the growth of melanomas in mice.”

The finding is another example of Queensland’s excellence as a medical research hub, with particular strengths in bio-medical, biopharmaceutical and human therapeutics, diagnostics and clinical trials. The world-renowned Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR Berghofer) is focused on improving health by developing new diagnostics, better treatments and prevention strategies, specifically in the areas of cancer, infectious diseases, mental health and complex disorders. As well as this facility, Queensland’s state capital Brisbane is home to The Pharmacy Australia Centre of Excellence and the Translational Research Institute, which is the vision of Professor Ian Frazer, the scientist and researcher who developed the world’s first cervical cancer vaccine.

According to Professor Frank Gannon, Director and CEO, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, “research is a major industry and major contributor to the economic life of Brisbane”.

The peptide was also found to have anti-cancer properties for another creature native to Australia, the Tasmanian devil. These marsupials – now an endangered species – are at risk of contracting Tasmanian devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), a transmissible cancer spread through biting that often leads to their death.

Ikonomopoulou says: “This research is still at a very early stage, but these results are very promising. There are many years of work ahead, but we hope that this compound could in the future be developed into a new treatment for melanoma and DFTD.

“These findings prompt us to continue investigating the potential of bioactive compounds derived from venom to treat melanoma, liver diseases, obesity and metabolism, as well as against the Tasmanian devil tumors in collaboration with the biopharmaceutical industry.”


(via QIMR Berghofer, New Atlas, Choose Brisbane)