This spider’s bite has a curious side effect: Could it help treat erectile dysfunction?
Researchers in Brazil are investigating whether spider venom could help treat erectile dysfunction.
The banana spider’s bite is known to cause painful, prolonged erections and scientists are now using its venom to develop a synthetic molecule.
Brazilian researchers began studying this curious side effect three decades ago.
But why? According to Marcia Helena Borges researcher at FUNED (Ezequiel Dias Foundation) they “ saw that patients who came to the clinic and had been bitten by this spider presented a characteristic symptom, which was priapism, which is a painful and prolonged erection."
The molecule triggers the release of nitric oxide, a chemical essential for erections as it increases blood circulation and allows blood vessels to widen.
What is a banana spider?
Covered in thick brown hair, and with a maximum size of up to 15 centimetres, this arachnid is one of the most venomous in the world.
It is found in several South American countries and was nicknamed for its common presence in banana plantations. It is also called the "wandering spider" or "armed spider."
In the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, it is found in rural areas as well as urban centres.
Why is this research considered relevant and promising?
At the Ezequiel Dias Foundation (FUNED), a medical research centre in the state's capital Belo Horizonte, a biologist delicately grabs one of the spiders with a pair of tweezers and stimulates its fangs to get a few drops of venom.
Maria Elena, professor at UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais) says the research could be especially important for men who have had their prostate removed.
“There is great resistance among men to undergo radical prostate surgery, for example in the case of cancer, because this leads to erectile dysfunction,” she says.
“And in this case, as the peptides are active in men who have had their prostate removed, it can further enable early cancer treatment."
Erectile dysfunction affects tens of millions of men around the world.
When will the treatment be available?
Biologist Carolina Nunes says that the compound created by the researchers has “great potential to become an internationally recognised medicine.”
After the first phase of clinical trials was approved by Brazil's Anvisa regulatory agency, the medication has now moved into the second of three phases before being approved for sale.
Maria Elena de Lima, a UFMG researcher said the discovery of a potential erectile dysfunction treatment was a message "not to destroy animals, even poisonous ones, because there is a real library of molecules that are still unknown."