Tarantula venom, baking soda explored to fight breast cancer

Baking soda and tarantula venom don't normally go together, clearly. But both are being examined in separate research efforts as potential breast cancer treatments.

The Atlantic offers a great summary of both projects.

For the baking soda option, researchers at the University of Arizona, armed with a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, are testing the use of baking soda as a way to boost the effectiveness of breast cancer chemotherapy treatments. As the article explains, baking soda counteracts the lactic acid tumors produce, and the treatment has helped so far in mice. Yet to be overcome, however, is the notion that large amounts of baking soda can damage the kidneys, bladder and other organs.

On the other hand, Australian researchers at James Cook University are studying whether the venom of tarantulas and funnel web spiders can kill breast cancer cells. The Cairns Post in Australia reported on the research, in an article cited by The Atlantic. A $200,000 Australian dollar ($205,640) grant from the National Breast Cancer Foundation is funding the study, which will look at whether spider venom molecules can kill cancer cells.

Both of these projects are very early stage but they're not without precedent; the idea of trying to develop cancer treatments from often-unconventional sources has been probed before. We told you recently, for example, about scientists in Germany who have harnessed the deadly poison from death cap mushrooms to halt pancreatic cancer in mice, without harming healthy tissue. And there have been all kinds of studies involving the use of omega-3 fatty acids to treat cancer and other diseases (with mixed success so far).

We're having trouble, however, getting the idea of using tarantula venom to fight breast cancer out of our minds. The notion of using something so deadly from a creature so creepy to beat breast cancer is fascinating (and scary?). But realistically, it will take some time to see if the concept can be tested successfully in animals, let alone people.

- read the baking soda research release
- check out the tarantula research story