Spider venom helps pets fight parasites

11 Oct 2013

A University of Queensland researcher is hoping to deploy treatments from spider venom to protect pets against parasites.

Dr Maggie Hardy, from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, will investigate the potential of proteins isolated from spider venoms to kill parasites such as fleas and ticks.

“Ectoparasites, which live on the outside of an animal, have developed widespread resistance to existing insecticides, meaning there is an urgent need for improved solutions to parasite infestation,” Dr Hardy said.

“I have identified two new compounds from the venom of the Australian tarantula that show promise in killing the insect pests that plague pets and livestock.”

“I will determine how effective these compounds are against a range of insect pests and if they are safe to be applied to animals.”

The project will be funded by a UQ Postdoctoral Research Fellowship for Women, of which only two are available across the entire university.

The fellowship provides support for women to re-establish their academic research careers after an interruption.

Dr Hardy returned to full-time work in March this year, nine months after giving birth to twins.

“A research career at UQ allows me the flexibility to work two-and-a-half days in the lab and the remainder at nights and on weekends when my husband is home from work to take care of our son and daughter,” Dr Hardy said.

“Taking time to start a family means my track record has changed over the last year, and unfortunately, that makes success in grant rounds even more difficult for an early-career researcher.”

“This competitive fellowship will give me the support I need to progress my research in the lab and give it the best chance of being translated into improved treatments for parasite infestation in pets and livestock.”

Three fellow IMB scientists have been awarded UQ Postdoctoral Research Fellowships, which allow exceptional early career researchers to conduct full-time research at UQ: Dr Cassy Spiller, Dr Abishek Iyer and Dr Surya Prakash.

Dr Cassy Spiller will evaluate whether a protein called CRIPTO can be used as a diagnostic marker and therapeutic target for treatment of testicular cancer, the second most common cancer in young men aged 18 to 391; a disease for which there is no routine screening test.

“My research may lead to new molecular techniques for non-invasively diagnosing and treating testicular cancer, which has doubled over the last four decades,” Dr Spiller said.

“This fellowship will give me the opportunity to produce high-impact research and act as a stepping stone to independent research funding.”

To donate to insecticide or testicular cancer research at IMB please visit www.imb.uq.edu.au/donate or call (07) 3346 2185.

The Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) is a research institute of The University of Queensland that aims to improve quality of life by advancing personalised medicine, drug discovery and biotechnology.


Media contact: 
Bronwyn Adams, IMB Communications Officer – 0418 575 247, 07 3346 2134 or b.adams@imb.uq.edu.au

1 Data sourced from Cancer Council Australia [http://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/testicular-cancer.html]