A component of tarantula venom has been identified as a promising treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a chronic disorder that currently has no cure. The chemical has been successfully tested on mice.

IBS is a common chronic condition that can cause abdominal pain and other unpleasant symptoms. Exactly why and how it develops remains unclear and there is no specific treatment, though dietary changes may help some patients. 

A group of researchers from Australia, the US, and Germany may have discovered a method to significantly improve the quality of life of IBS sufferers by blocking the pain in a targeted way.

The study, as described in the American Chemical Society’s Pharmacology & Translational Science journal, was to test a specific protein that can be found in venom produced by some tarantula species. 

Spiders produce neurotoxins, chemicals that attack the neural system, which means the components of their venom affect nerves in various ways. Nerves are used to signal pain, so spider venom has long been seen as a potential source of novel painkillers.

The particular chemical that was tested by the group, Tsp1a, is derived from a Peruvian tarantula, but the scientists managed to synthesize it in a lab. 

The study on mice found that a single Tsp1a treatment delivered into the creature’s colon significantly reduced the occurrence of a pain reflex, indicating pain relief.

In addition, Tsp1a “appeared highly selective and did not interfere with other body functions, suggesting it could be used safely in humans.”

While the study shows promise as a potential treatment for chronic IBS pain, more thorough studies of its activity in the body and immune system will be critical, the researchers say.

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