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Biophysicists Receive $125,000 to Advance Work with Tarantula Venom

By Mary Cochrane

Release Date: October 1, 2010

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- University at Buffalo biophysicists who are testing a protein found in tarantula venom as a potential therapy for muscular dystrophy have received foundation support for their work.

The Children's Guild Foundation has given $125,000 to Frederick Sachs, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Professor and UB Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics, and his team, which is seeking to advance the peptide -- called GsMTx4 -- to clinical trials and ultimately to gain FDA approval for use of the drug in humans.

The FDA has already approved it as an orphan drug for muscular dystrophy.

The team discovered the peptide -- which is protected by a U.S. patent awarded to UB -- about 15 years ago. The Sachs lab is also exploring the peptide's application to several other conditions, including the cardiac arrhythmias commonly associated with dystrophy, neuropathic pain, Parkinson's disease and sickle cell anemia, all diseases that affect cell mechanics.

"Duchenne muscular dystrophy is a far too common and fatal genetic disease that affects thousands of children and devastates families," said James A. Bourne, board chair of the Children's Guild Foundation. "Finding a treatment for MD is an effort that the foundation supports wholeheartedly."

Recent testing on GsMTx4 in dystrophic laboratory mice showed that the drug increases muscle strength without causing mortality, morbidity or toxicity. Sachs said it is the only known drug to act specifically on mechanosensitive ion channels.

More information about the work is available at http://www.sachslab.buffalo.edu, and on Facebook under Rosie's Therapy for Muscular Dystrophy.

The Children's Guild Foundation is a non-profit, private organization that advocates and funds rehabilitative health care, research, education and therapeutic recreation programs for special needs children.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.