In a new study from the University of Queensland, researchers found venom from a deadly native spider may actually save lives, by halting the harmful effects of heart attacks.
They used venom from a type of funnel-web spider—among the world’s deadliest species—in a drug they hope can soon be taken to human trials.
The researchers found the venom helped stop the body from sending a “death signal” after a heart attack, which causes cells to die.
After a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is reduced, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the heart muscle.
The lack of oxygen causes the cell environment to become acidic, which combine to send a message for heart cells to die.
Despite decades of research, no one has been able to develop a drug that stops this death signal in heart cells, which is one of the reasons why heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death in the world.
In the study, the team successfully used a protein from spider venom on beating human heart cells that were exposed to heart-attack stresses.
The Hi1a protein from spider venom blocks acid-sensing ion channels in the heart, so the death message is blocked, cell death is reduced, and we see improved heart cell survival.
They hope the drug could help not only prevent heart damage and save lives but improve the quality of donated hearts during transplants.
Previous research has found funnel-web spider venom may also be useful in curbing damage from strokes.
The team is planning for human clinical trials for both stroke and heart disease within two to three years.
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The study is published in Circulation. One author of the study is Nathan Palpant.
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