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  • Posted June 12, 2024

Scientists Find Possible Antidote to Black Widow Spider Bite

A potential human-specific antidote to black widow spider venom has been discovered, researchers report.

They have identified an antibody that effectively neutralizes black widow venom in lab tests of cell cultures, according to a study published June 12 in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.

This antibody, or ones like it, could eventually replace the horse-derived anti-venom currently used to treat people deathly ill from the bite of the black widow, said senior study author Michael Hust, a biologist at the Technical University of Braunschweig, in Germany.

Many patients bitten by black widows don't receive the current anti-venom because it's made from proteins derived from horses and can trigger serious allergic and immune system reactions, researchers explained in background notes.

They set out to replace the horse-derived anti-venom “with recombinant human antibodies to get a better product for the patients and to avoid the use of horses for serum production,” Hust said in a journal news release.

For this effort, researchers focused on the European black widow, which is largely found in the Mediterranean.

Using gene technology, researchers generated dozens of human antibodies that could neutralize alpha-latrotoxin, the venom generated by a black widow spider.

Alpha-latrotoxin attacks the nervous system and causes symptoms like severe pain, muscle spasms, difficulty breathing, headache, nausea, drooling, fever and chills, the Cleveland Clinic says.

In severe cases, people might need hospitalization to treat high blood pressure, heart problems or breathing issues caused by the venom.

One antibody in particular, called MRU44-4-A1, was incredibly effective in neutralizing black widow venom, the researchers noted.

However, only two antibodies identified in the study appear effective against the venom of more than one variety of black widow, they added.

There are three main species of black widow spider found in the United States -- the Northern, Southern and Western black widow. 

“To develop a potential treatment for all latrotoxins, and not only the toxin of the European black widow, we would need further improved cross-reactive antibodies,” Huss said.

These antibodies also would need further lab tweaking before they could be tested in humans, researchers added.

“This is especially important because with the invasion of the spiders into new habitats, the need for therapeutic alternatives might increase over the next years,” Hust said.

The Cleveland Clinic recommends that people who've been bitten by a black widow:

  • Wash the bite area with soap and water.

  • Apply ice to reduce pain and swelling, and to delay the effects of the venom.

  • Elevate the wound site, if possible.

  • Call a local poison control center and seek medical care.

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more about black widow spider bites.

SOURCE: Frontiers, news release, June 12, 2024

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