Usually, the bite from the Australian funnel-web spider can kill a person within 15 minutes, but recently researchers have discovered an ingredient in the venom may treat stroke victims. The element, a molecule called Hi1a could protect brain cells from a stroke, even after it has occurred. By protecting against the loss of neurons, the particle could change the way stroke is treated.
The Australian funnel-web spider or the Atracinae is found in Australia and is considered one of the most lethal spiders in the world. The spider ranges in length from 0.4 to two inches. They have venom glands in the mouth of the spider and have large fangs that can penetrate fingernails and soft shoes. The Australian funnel-web spiders make their homes in moist, cool, and sheltered habitats and can be found in the suburbs under shrubs.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain becomes weak, causing the brain to starve from the lack of oxygen. This lack of oxygen can result in cell death. There are two types of stroke: ischemic – lack of blood flow and hemorrhagic – bleeding in the brain. Stroke leads to the organ not functioning properly. Signs of a stroke include the inability to move or feel on one side of the body, problems speaking or understanding, and loss of vision in one side. Six million die of strokes each year, making it the second largest cause of death.
Researchers found the molecule accidentally while sequencing the “DNA of toxins in the venom of the Darling Downs funnel-web spider” found in Queensland and New South Wales in Australia, The Guardian reported. The venom was collected from three spiders and as the researchers looked at the molecule, Hi1a, they noticed that the molecule protected brain cells. Glenn King, from the University of Queensland’s center for pain research, called the particle “potent.”
King studied the effects of the molecules from the Australian funnel-web spider on rats. His team gave one small dose to the rats to see what would happen. They believe the molecule works by “blocking ion channels in cells.” Even after giving the molecule to the rats two hours after the stroke, the molecule was effective in protecting the cells. It was even effective eight hours after the stroke, reducing brain damage by 65 percent.
King compared the rats (one with the treatment and one without) and noticed that the molecule “almost” restored the brain to normal functions. King, speaking to The Independent said the “world-first discovery will help us provide better outcomes for stroke survivors by limiting the brain damage and disability caused by this devastating injury.”
The researchers hope to begin trials in humans within the next two years, but more research is needed. Kate Holmes deputy director for research at the Stroke Association hopes the molecule can be an “alternative for stroke patients.” The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
By Cheryl Werber