Thirty years ago, Brazilian scientists started looking into an interesting outcome of getting bitten by a banana spider: the venom caused people to experience priapism, which is a painful and long-lasting erection.
Inspired by the spider’s venom, these scientists worked to create a special gel for treating erectile dysfunction. They used some spider poison features to make a synthetic molecule. Right now, this gel is going through successful clinical trials.
Details about the spider under discussion
The arachnid, covered in dense brown hair and reaching a size of up to 15 centimeters (six inches), is one of the most poisonous in the world. It can be found in various South American nations and goes by different names, such as the “wandering spider” or the “armed spider.” It earned its nickname due to its frequent presence in banana plantations.
In the southeastern state of Minas Gerais in Brazil, you can come across this spider in both countryside and city areas.
At the Ezequiel Dias Foundation (FUNED), a medical research center in the state’s capital, Belo Horizonte, a biologist carefully picks up one of these spiders using tweezers and gently encourages its fangs to release a few drops of venom.
FUNED later dispatches the venom to the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), where scientists have been conducting research to identify which component can be recreated to develop a treatment for erectile dysfunction. This condition impacts tens of millions of men worldwide.
“The venom is only used to learn the properties of the molecule,” explained Maria Elena de Lima, a researcher at UFMG. She emphasized that the venom is used for understanding the properties of the molecule responsible for causing priapism in those bitten by the spider.
Use of patent for ointment manufacturing
A Brazilian biotechnology firm, Biozeus, has acquired the patent for this molecule. They plan to offer it in the form of an ointment that can be applied to the male organ when needed. Maria Elena de Lima mentioned that using this ointment would lead to an erection within just a few minutes.
This molecule sets off the release of nitric oxide, a crucial factor for achieving an erection. Nitric oxide is important because it boosts blood flow and enables blood vessels to expand, facilitating the erection process.
De Lima highlighted that this research could be exceptionally valuable in battling cancer, particularly for men dealing with prostate cancer. Many men with prostate cancer decline a procedure to remove the prostate because it can harm nerves and result in erectile dysfunction.
Second phase of the clinical trials
Following approval of the first phase of clinical trials by Brazil’s Anvisa regulatory agency, the medication has progressed to the second phase out of three necessary phases before it can be approved for sale.
De Lima emphasized that the discovery of a potential treatment for erectile dysfunction sends a message not to harm animals, even venomous ones, as they may hold a valuable treasure trove of unknown molecules.