People don’t usually think of spider venom when they are wanting to get well, but new research shows that it may be more of a miracle drug than we realized. A recent study found that there is a peptide in spider venom, known as Hm1a, that could help treat a devastating form of childhood epilepsy known as Davet syndrome. This is a pretty serious illness, and it might just be spiders that end up saving the day this time.
Having epilepsy as a child is already horrible enough, but Davet syndrome, a very rare and deadly type of epilepsy, is easily the deadliest form of this disease. For one thing it is resistant to many of the drugs used to treat epilepsy, making it harder to control. When babies are born with Davet syndrome they appear healthy at first, for a few months after they are born, but then they begin to have seizures when they get to five to eight months old. The seizures occur frequently and are completely unpredictable. They may cause developmental problems as well as sleep disturbances, and greatly increase the risk of sudden death. While it is extremely rare, only 1.4 percent of children that have epilepsy, which is only one percent of the general population, get Davet syndrome, it is also an extremely severe form of the disease.
The spider venom comes in when you understand that 80 percent of the cases of Davet syndrome are caused by a mutation in the SCN1A gene. This gene is what keeps the sodium channels in the brain that regulate brain activity functioning normally. The Hm1a or Heteroscodratoxin-1 neurotoxic peptide found in the venom of Togo starburst tarantulas affects these sodium channels. Researchers used the peptide on mice with Davet syndrome, and the outcome was more than they had hoped for. The peptide targets those specific sodium channels that are affected by Davet and restore the function of brain neurons, which gets rid of the seizures. When they gave the mice Hm1a continuously for a period of time, it completely stopped six of the nine mice’s seizures. This could literally become the miracle drug for children afflicted with Davet syndrome.
Do you think spider venom could possibly also help treat other horrible diseases? Have you hear of any other instances where spider venom is helping treat specific illnesses?