A bite from an Australian funnel web spider can kill a human in 15 minutes — but its venom could prove to be the world’s first treatment for brain damage caused by a stroke.
Scientists were sequencing the DNA of the venom when they stumbled upon a compound, which they believe may have wide-reaching benefits for stroke sufferers.
The harmless ingredient, Hi1a, can protect brain cells from being destroyed by a stroke, even when administered hours later, according to researchers.
Clinical trials on humans, which scientists hope to begin with two years, will now assess the compound, which could be rolled out to become the first treatment of its type.
“We believe that we have, for the first time, found a way to minimise the effects of brain damage after a stroke,” Professor Glenn King, from the UQ Institute for Molecular Bioscience, told AAP.
According to the Guardian, the molecule stood out because it looked like two copies of another brain cell-protecting chemical put together.
The scientists at the University of Queensland and Monash University, who were examining venom extracted from spiders found in Queensland’s Orchid beach, tested the compound on rats.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that administrating Hi1a two hours after stroke reduced the extent of brain damage in rats by 80 per cent.
Even eight hours after the stroke, it reduced the amount of brain damage by about 65 per cent.
Scientists discovered that the compound works by blocking ion channels in cells, in particular those that react to acidic conditions in the brain.
“The untreated rats performed very badly after stroke. Their neurological and motor performance were terrible,” said King. He added that Hi1a “almost restored these functions to normal.”
Kate Holmes at the Stroke Association said she welcomes any treatment that has the potential to reduce the damage caused by a stroke.
“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,” she added.
“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,” she said.
Approximately six million people a year die from strokes.