The Darling Downs funnel web spider is considered to be the deadliest spider in Australia. With venom capable of killing a human in 15 minutes, it is truly a force to be reckoned with. However, researchers from the University of Queensland and Monash University revealed that the spider's venom holds a harmless ingredient that could be used to treat brain damage caused by stroke.
Their findings, published in Proceedings to the National Academy of Sciences, showed that the protein known as Hi1a could protect neurons by blocking the so-called ion channels in cells, which respond to the onset of acidic conditions in the brain as a result of a stroke.
"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," said Glenn King, lead author of the study, in a a report from The Independent. "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."
For the study, the researchers captured three funnel web spiders. The venom of the spiders were then extracted from their fangs by administering an electric charge to make the muscle contract.
Analyzing the extracted venom, the researchers observed that Hi1a protein resembles two copies of another brain cell-protecting chemical stitched together. Intrigued by the stark similarities, the researchers decided to synthesize Hi1a and injected it to rats.
The researchers found that rats injected with the synthesized Hi1a protein have reduced the extent of brain damage by 80 percent two hours after the stroke. The protective property of Hi1a is still effective even eight hours after stroke, reducing the amount of brain damage by 65 percent.
With the positive results of the synthesized protein in the rat models, the researchers hope to conduct human trials of the compound in two years. If the Hi1a protein is proven to be effective in reducing brain damage, it could potentially transform the treatment in stroke patients.
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