FORMER arachnophobe Megan Cowles wants fellow sufferers to join a ground-breaking city study to conquer their fear of the creepy crawlies.

Researchers hope an antibiotic used for treating tuberculosis will speed up a therapy that helps people overcome fears and anxieties, including being scared of spiders.

They are seeking 40 arachnophobes to take a placebo or the antibiotic alongside cognitive behavioural therapy.

The therapy – already used in the NHS to treat anxiety – helps people understand and change thought processes.

Early trials helped Oxford University research assistant Miss Cowles, 26, overcome her childhood phobia.

She said of her fear: “It was pretty serious.

“If it was a really small spider I would be OK.

“If it was a large one I would probably burst into tears, hyperventilate and leave the room.

“I used to think they were on me, I took bits of clothing off and I would go through my hair.”

While travelling in Ecuador, the Cowley resident spotted a particularly large eight-legger and said: “I took everything out my bag.

“I spend hours checking, and the whole time I thought one was going to pop out. It was horrible.”

Each sufferer helps establish their own treatment in the trial, which for Miss Cowles first tested her reactions to pictures of insects.

Two spiders were then put in a box and placed at the end of a corridor and Miss Cowles was told she could open the door and walk towards them.

She said: “I got to a few metres and saw a spider and freaked out, I was crying and shaking.”

A short therapy session followed when she examined her reactions and was helped to understand that her fear could not last if she did not flee.

The next day she held a dead spider and said: “By then, when I approached the box, I walked straight up and even asked if I could stroke one.

“I don’t think I would be scared if I saw one now.”

The study is being done by Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry and the Oxford Institute of Clinical Psychology Doctorate Training, part of Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust.

Trust trainee and clinical psychologist Mareike Suesse said: “The results from the study might actually be applied to other anxiety disorders such as panic disorder, social anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

Miss Cowles was one of seven in the first trial, but it has not yet revealed who took the placebo.

The trial will be at Headington’s Warneford Hospital 9am to 3pm on a day to suit with a follow up the next day and a month later.

University senior research fellow Andrea Reinecke said: “It has economic implications.

“It may help the NHS to cut costs and treat more people effectively.”

Those who take part will be paid £30. To contact the study email mareike.

How it works

THE study uses cycloserine, an antibiotic which has been used to treat tuberculosis for the last two decades. But it has also been found to improve congitive function by improving connections between the synapses in the brain.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is also known as talking therapy and, while it does not get to the root cause of problems, it helps people understand how they think and their subsequent reactions in order to cope better.

Medics believe phobias, like the fear of spiders, usually develop during childhood and can be linked to a negative experience or learned through fears held by others, like parents.