The funnel web spider is one of the deadliest spiders in the world, but a new study suggests its venom could hold the key to a revolutionary stroke treatment.
Scientists have identified a small protein in the lethal liquid that may offer a way to minimise the effects of brain damage after a stroke.
Strokes occur when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off or there is bleeding on the brain. But despite being the second biggest cause of death globally, there’s currently no way to protect the brain from damage after they strike.
The University of Queensland’s Professor Glenn King said the compound showed great promise after being tested on rats:
“The small protein we discovered, Hi1a, blocks acid-sensing ion channels in the brain, which are key drivers of brain damage after stroke.
“During preclinical studies, we found that a single dose of Hi1a administered up to eight hours after stroke protected brain tissue and drastically improved neurological performance.
“Hi1a even provides some protection to the core brain region most affected by oxygen deprivation, which is generally considered unrecoverable due to the rapid cell death caused by stroke.”
To identify the protein, the scientists collected deadly spiders from Fraser Island off the coast of Queensland.
They were then taken to a lab for “milking”, during which the venom was sucked up using pipettes.
The scientists also dissected the spiders’ venom glands to find the crucial protein so that it could be recreated in the lab. It was inserted into rats.
Experts welcomed the research, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but said there was more work to be done.
Kate Holmes, deputy director for research at the Stroke Association, said:
“We do not have an accurate picture of what happens in human brains from this research, therefore, it is currently unknown if this could be a successful treatment option for humans in the future.
“We welcome any treatment that has the potential to reduce the damage caused by stroke, particularly if this can benefit people who are unable to arrive at hospital quickly.
“Current treatments must be given in half this time period, and it is too early for us to know if this research can offer an alternative for stroke patients.
“We urge for stroke to be treated as an emergency - the sooner a person can get to hospital after a stroke, the sooner the right treatment can be received, which can improve survival and help recovery.”