Protein in the venom of the Chilean rose tarantula holds promise for keeping muscular dystrophy at bay, say scientists.
Specifically, the protein helped stop muscle cells from deteriorating.
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.
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.