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Protein found in spider venom could treat muscular dystrophy

Date:
July 16, 2012
Source:
University at Buffalo
Summary:
When a stockbroker from the Buffalo suburbs discovered that his grandson had Duchenne muscular dystrophy, he turned to medical researchers for help in developing a treatment. He found a promising new therapy involving spider venom. The therapy is not a cure. But if it works in humans, it could extend lives for years -- maybe even decades.

UB researchers are developing a treatment for muscular dystrophy using a peptide found in the venom of a Chilean rose tarantula.
Credit: Image courtesy of University at Buffalo

While Spider-Man is capturing the imagination of theatergoers, real-life spider men in Upstate New York are working intently to save a young boy's life.

It all began in 2009, when Jeff Harvey, a stockbroker from the Buffalo suburbs, discovered that his grandson, JB, had Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The disease is fatal. It strikes only boys, causing their muscles to waste away.

Hoping to help his grandson, Harvey searched Google for promising muscular dystrophy treatments and, in a moment of serendipity, stumbled upon University at Buffalo scientist Frederick Sachs, PhD.

Sachs was a professor of physiology and biophysics who had been studying the medical benefits of venom. In the venom of the Chilean rose tarantula, he and his colleagues discovered a protein that held promise for keeping muscular dystrophy at bay. Specifically, the protein helped stop muscle cells from deteriorating.

Within months of getting in touch, Harvey and Sachs co-founded Tonus Therapeutics, a pharmaceutical company devoted to developing the protein as a drug. Though the treatment has yet to be tested in humans, it has helped dystrophic mice gain strength in preliminary experiments.

The therapy is not a cure. But if it works in humans, it could extend the lives of children like JB for years -- maybe even decades.

Success can't come quickly enough.

JB, now four, can't walk down the stairs alone. When he runs, he waddles. He receives physical therapy and takes steroids as a treatment. While playing tee ball one recent day, he confided to his grandfather, "When I grow up, I want to be a baseball player." It was a heartbreaking moment.

"Oh, I would be thrilled if you could be a baseball player," Harvey remembers replying. He's doing everything he can to make sure that JB -- and other boys like him -- can live out their dreams.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University at Buffalo. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University at Buffalo. "Protein found in spider venom could treat muscular dystrophy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 July 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120716142657.htm>.
University at Buffalo. (2012, July 16). Protein found in spider venom could treat muscular dystrophy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120716142657.htm
University at Buffalo. "Protein found in spider venom could treat muscular dystrophy." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120716142657.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

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