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Researchers use nature to fight cancer

Far North Queensland scientists are undertaking ground-breaking new research to determine if venom from funnel web spiders and tarantulas can kill breast cancer cells.
Researchers use nature to fight cancer

Image of gac fruit courtesy of NSW Government

Science Minister Ros Bates applauded the work being done by BMDT Centre researchers at James Cook University, which is leading the way with world class people and facilities.

“Spiders are often treated with fear; they have a complex mix of venom molecules that kill prey and predators. Researchers have found that their venom may offer an untapped suite of natural molecules to fight breast cancer cells,” Ms Bates said.

“With more than 40,000 species of spiders it’s estimated there are more than four million different toxins in spider venom. Those toxins will now be screened, to look at their potential to treat cancer in humans.

The James Cook University team is working out of its new laboratories, established as part of the $19.45 million Queensland Tropical Health Alliance.

Professor Norelle Daly said the team of scientists was also researching the little-known tropical Gac fruit, with hopes it may hold the key to curing cancer.

“The Gac fruit has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 1,200 years. Clinical research at the University of Hanoi in Vietnam found oil from the pulp and seeds were effective in the treatment of liver cancer,” Professor Daly said.

“Our research team set about investigating what it was about the fruit that seemed to give it anti-cancer properties.

“We found Gac had the ability to block a particular enzyme associated with the development of cancer. Scientists were able to isolate the fruit’s anti-cancer properties, which had the potential to inhibit the growth of cancer cells- in the lab at least.”

The next stage of the research is to design a more targeted drug to help treat breast, skin and prostate cancers.

Minister Bates said the work being done by BMDT Centre researchers at JCU cemented Queensland’s place as a global scientific leader.