Not everyone would be up to the job of extracting venom from a lethal 15cm arachnid. It requires clasping one of the huge furry spiders with a pair of tweezers and stimulating its fangs to get a few drops. But this is exactly what scientists in Brazil have been doing because spider venom can be turned into a gel to treat erectile dysfunction, a team of researchers has found.
When it isn’t having its fangs milked, the banana spider, or Brazilian wandering spider, enjoys spending time in banana plantations, which is how it got its name. But there may soon be another reason why we associate the spider with the phallic fruit.
People who are bitten by the banana spider, or Brazilian wandering spider, are known to suffer “priapism”, in other words, prolonged and painful penile erections. After decades spent studying this effect of the creature’s bite, the researchers at FUNED (Ezequiel Dias Foundation), a science institute in Minas Gerais state in southeastern Brazil where the banana spider is common, have developed a synthetic molecule using its venom.
Interesting Engineering explains: “The molecule triggers the release of nitric oxide, a chemical essential for erections as it increases blood circulation and allows blood vessels to widen.” Named BZ371A, the synthetic molecule has 22 international and nine applied patents, according to Euronews. It is attracting so much buzz because erectile dysfunction affects tens of millions of men around the world.
There is great resistance among men to undergo radical prostate surgery, for example in the case of cancer, because this leads to erectile dysfunction.Maria Elena de Lima, Professor of UFMG
In particular, the treatment could be a breakthrough for men with cancer who have had or face having their prostate removed, Professor Maria Elena de Lima, of UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais) points out. By offering a solution to that fear, the gel could “enable early cancer treatment,” she added.
The gel form of the treatment is another bonus, as it means it can be used by men who cannot take pill-based erectile treatments due to other conditions.
When is it coming to market?
The Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency (Anvisa) recently approved the drug to go into clinical trials. Initial trials have already demonstrated that the gel “works with a minimum amount and without any toxicity, as it is hardly detected in the blood,” said de Lima.
Making a plea for biodiversity, she added, that the discovery of the venom’s potential demonstrates that humans should not “destroy animals, even poisonous ones, because there is a real library of molecules that are still unknown.”