Researchers estimate that in the United States alone, around 7.5 million people suffer from psoriasis. If you don’t quite know what psoriasis is, it’s a disease that affects the skin, causing red patches on the body that can be itchy also result in blisters. To treat psoriasis, people have been using topical creams and a series of vitamins, which can reduce flare ups by nearly 90 percent. Now there’s another treatment that researchers have found, and it’s an unexpected source.
The new research has found that using the venom from fire ants could potentially treat psoriasis. The venom contains solenopsin, which is blended into the new topical cream. While there haven’t been trials on humans yet, the effect that it’s had on mice have been positive. There’s no cure for psoriasis, but inflammation on the skin of mice was brought down tremendously by using fire ant venom.
In the study, one group of mice with psoriasis didn’t receive any treatment, while one group received standard cream and the final one received cream made from fire ant venom. After just four weeks, the mice that received the fire ant venom treatment saw the thickness of their skin decrease by around 50 percent and even had fewer immune cells attacking skin by around 50 percent.
What made solenopsin so effective was the fact that it was able to turn into sphingosine-1-phosphate, which is an anti-inflammatory molecule. It was also found that the solenopsin molecules were similar to that of ceramides, which help the skin from keeping out foreign cells that can cause inflammation. Even immune cells that were tested separately when interacting with solenopsin, a protein called interleukin 12 was formed to prevent even more inflammation.
Obviously, this treatment doesn’t mean that if you have psoriasis that you should be surrounding yourself with dangerous fire ants. However, using the venom from the ants has the potential to be used in psoriasis creams, and could potentially be cheaper than steroidal cream. Jack Arbiser, a dermatology professor at Emory University said that “We believe that solenopsin analogs are contributing to full restoration of the barrier function of the skin. Emollients can sooth the skin in psoriasis, but they are not sufficient for restoration of the barrier.”
The next step of the process will be to see if the solenopsin in fire ant venom could cause further irritation to the skin and potentially poisoning to patients. Thankfully, it doesn’t appear to be the case in early trials and the studies are ongoing. What makes researchers so optimistic about the venom’s ability to help patients with psoriasis without causing any harm is because posons such as botulinum are already being used in skin treatment, as that’s the poison used in Botox.
Arbiser said that the cream could also potentially be used with existing treatments to make them even stronger. “This may be a compensatory and a mechanism of resistance to anti-psoriasis therapy,” he said. “It suggests that the solenopsin compounds could be used in combination with existing approaches.” Arbiser has also looked at fire ant venom’s potential for helping to kill cancer cells, which could include skin cancer. We’ll have to wait to see the potential full uses for solenopsin in the future, but right now it appears that there’s more than meets the eye for this venomous compound to the surprise of many.