A new skin treatment could be developed from the painful venom of fire ants, according to scientists.
Fire ants are an aggressive species which can sting with a very painful poison called solenopsin that feels to humans as if they have been burned, giving the insects their name.
Scientists have now developed a compound from that venom which they discovered reduced skin thickening and inflammation in a type of psoriasis that affects mice.
The compound was developed from solenopsins which are chemically very similar to a particular molecule in skincare products.
Ceramides, the molecules in many creams and emollients, help maintain the barrier function of skin.
Dr Jack Arbiser, professor of dermatology at Emory University School of Medicine, said that his team believes solenopsins may be even better.
He said the treatment his team has developed could lead to full restoration of the barrier function in the skin which psoriasis undermines.
“Emollients can soothe the skin in psoriasis, but they are not sufficient for restoration of the barrier,” he said.
Psoriasis occurs in up to 4% of the population and supermodel Cara Delevingne has spoken of her struggles with the condition.
Dr Arbiser’s laboratory has previously shown that solenopsin is an inhibitor of blood vessel growth and has potential as an anticancer agent.
Derivatives of the venom have not yet been tested for systemic toxicity, but even if they were found to be dangerous they could still be used to treat skin diseases, just as botulinum toxin (botox) is.