Science Is Treating Erectile Dysfunction With Spider Venom. What We Know

Men with erectile dysfunction (ED) might be able to thank the Brazilian wandering spider for sorting out their troubles in the bedroom. 

Researchers from the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil have been testing a particular compound from the venom of this spider, which is also known as the "banana spider" or "armed spider," for its potential to stimulate an erection in men with ED, for over a decade (via Gizmodo). Maria Elena de Lima, a professor of biomedicine and medicine at the Santa Casa Belo Horizonte Hospital in Brazil who is leading the research, shared in a statement that they "saw that patients who came to the clinic and had been bitten by this spider presented a characteristic symptom, which was priapism, which is a painful and prolonged erection" (via Euronews). This was what piqued their interest. 

A few tests on rodents and one pilot test on humans later, the molecule in the venom is now moving to phase II of the trials, per Live Science. The molecule was developed into a gel by scientists and applied to the groin area of the subjects. "It only has good local effects, with the absence of negative systemic effects," said Dr. Paulo Lacativa, medical doctor and CEO of Biozeus, the company currently developing the drug.

How does spider venom treat erectile dysfunction?

The armed spider (Phoneutria nigriventer) or banana spider — which gets its latter name from having been found in banana shipments — is one of the most toxic spiders in the world. Its bite is known to cause a severe stinging pain at the site of the wound at first, per Live Science, and eventually leads to goosebumps, high or low blood pressure, irregular heart rate, nausea, stomach cramps, hypothermia,  blurred vision, and even death if the person doesn't seek immediate medical attention.  It also causes prolonged and painful erections. 

The compound in question, which has now been synthetically produced and named BZ371A by scientists, works by triggering a release of nitric oxide, which is a molecule that plays a crucial role in erections. It helps the muscles in the penis to relax, per Healthline, while boosting blood flow to the area. Researchers seem to think that the compound derived from spider venom will work differently from other erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis, which inhibit an enzyme called PDE5 in order to promote the release of nitric oxide (via NBC News). 

Current erectile dysfunction medicines, however, don't work on everyone. While high blood pressure causes erectile dysfunction, there are side effects like low blood pressure with the use of Viagra. The hope with this research is that the wandering spider's venom can become an option for people looking for alternative treatments. 

This research could help cancer patients, too

There's an indirect way in which successfully treating erectile dysfunction could also help cancer patients, according to Maria Elena de Lima (per Euronews). "There is great resistance among men to undergo radical prostate surgery, for example in the case of cancer, because this leads to erectile dysfunction," explained de Lima. Prostatectomy, the surgery that's performed to remove part or all of the prostate gland, can cause damage to the nerves around the prostate and lead to erectile dysfunction, according to City of Hope

The next phase in the new discovery is testing the molecule from the spider venom on individuals who've had to undergo prostate removal surgery because of cancer, per Daily Mail. Science has an intriguing way of also shedding light on how rich a resource nature and its many species can be. De Lima was keen to highlight that in her statement (via Euronews): "[Don't] destroy animals, even poisonous ones, because there is a real library of molecules that are still unknown."