Spider venom could prevent stroke brain damage: study

21 March 2017

A protein found in the deadly venom of a spider could be used to protect the human brain from stroke damage, a study has found.

Australian scientists claim to have found the Hi1a protein after "milking" the poisonous venom of funnel web spiders, which could kill within 15 minutes.

An injection of a version of the protein in lab rats, was found to block "acid-sensing ion channels" which are said to be the "key drivers" of brain damage after stroke.

According to the study, a dose of the compound two hours after a stroke reduced brain damage in rats by 80 per cent. The researchers said even a dose after eight hours could cut injury by 65 per cent.

According to professor Glenn King, who led the research, it showed "great promise" as a future treatment.

King said, "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, Sky News reported.

"This world-first discovery will help us provide better outcomes for stroke survivors by limiting the brain damage and disability caused by this devastating injury."

Hi1a drew the attention of scientists as it looked like two copies of another chemical that could protect brain cells.

Professor King added, "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."

The Stroke Association said the research was in its early stages but it would "welcome any treatment that has the potential to reduce the damage caused by stroke".

The researchers, from the University of Queensland and Monash University, travelled to Fraser Island in Australia to hunt for and capture three potentially deadly Australian funnel web spiders.

"We regularly collect spiders from Fraser Island off the south coast of Queensland," explained lead researcher professor Glenn King, the BBC reported.

"The reason for this is that funnel-web spiders dig burrows that can be as deep as 20-30 cm. Thus, digging them up from hard clay soils is very difficult. Fraser Island is a sand island which makes it easy for us to extract the spiders from their burrows."

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