The Kind Of Poison That Protect Stroke Victims Against Brain Damage

Australian funnel web spider (Image: Facebook/The Australian Reptile Park)

When you hear of poison all one can think about is a substance that will kill not really about healing, especially if it’s from a spider.

Now here’s something to make you reconsider your conclusion. The Venom  produced by the deadly Australian funnel-web spider could be used to develop a drug to prevent brain damage after a stroke, scientists claim.

The Australian funnel-web spider is one of the most dangerous species in the world. Found in shade and sheltered spots, its venom can kill a human in just 15 minutes, as it attacks the nervous system.

However, no-one has died from a funnel-web spider bite since 1981, when an antidote was invented.

Now Professor Glenn King and his colleagues from The University of Queensland have discovered a peptide in the spider’s venom that could drastically reduce brain damage following stroke.

According to Professor King, the peptide, known as Hi1a, blocks acid-sensing ion channels in the brain, which are key drivers of brain damage after stroke.

“When you have a stroke, oxygen doesn’t flow to certain parts of the brain and the brain switches the way it uses its fuel and you get lactic acidosis and the brain becomes acidic,” he told  ABC Radio Brisbane .

“The spider venom shuts off a specific ion pathway in the brain that is responsible for triggering massive cell death after stroke.

“You can’t stop neurons that have already died, but you could give this drug eight hours after stroke and still get massive protection of the brain.”

During preclinical studies, researchers found a single dose of Hi1a protected brain tissue and significantly improved neurological performance after a stroke.

Funnel Web Spider
Funnel Web Spider (Image: ANU)

Brain damage was reduced by 80% when Hi1a was administered two hours after stroke, and even when administered eight hours after stroke onset, the amount of brain damage was reduced by about 65%.

“This is a remarkably long window of opportunity for treatment, which makes it a promising drug lead, as about 60% of stroke patients do not reach an emergency room until at least two hours after onset of stroke,” said Professor King

“It would be particularly useful for patients in rural and regional areas, who need to travel further to access their nearest hospital.”

Professor King and his research partners at The University of Queensland and Monash University have now launched a campaign to fast-track development of the drug.

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If clinical trials are successful, Hi1a could transform treatment and outcomes for stroke patients, as there are currently no stroke treatments on the market that can protect the brain.

There is currently only one approved drug treatment for stroke caused by a blood clot, which works to dissipate the clot.

However, this drug treatment also thins the blood, and is therefore unsuitable for patients whose stroke is caused by a haemorrhage rather than blockage of an artery. 

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“If Hi1a also proves to be safe for patients with stroke caused by a brain haemorrhage, it could be administered in the ambulance without the need of a brain scan,” Professor King said.

“This would minimise fatalities and provide much better outcomes for survivors of stroke in terms of minimising brain damage.”

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