Fraser Island (K’gari) funnel web spider can bite and kill you. Sure, we now have strong anti-venoms, but it can be deadly. However, it can also be life-saving as scientists have developed a drug candidate from a molecule found in the venom of funnel web spiders. These drugs could one day be used to treat heart attack victims.
Scientists at The University of Queensland and the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute tested a protein called Hi1a as a drug candidate to stop heart cells from dying. Heart attack creates a lack of oxygen, which then causes the cell environment to become acidic. This basically becomes a signal for heart cells to die. However, Hi1a could stop this message from being sent, even though it is a protein from spider venom.
Funnel web spiders are dangerously venomous, although for decades no one has died from them. This is thanks to our modern first-aid techniques and antivenom. Regardless, spider’s venom is a very effective compound in what it does. Scientists want to borrow some of that effectiveness for saving lives rather than taking them. Currently there are no drugs that could stop that death signal from killing heart cells. This means that Hi1a could save lives of hundreds of thousands of heart attack victims as well as be useful in transplant.
Obviously, the survival of heart cells is vital in heart transplants. Hi1a could reduce cell death and improve the possibilities to successfully transport and transplant the heart. Of course, it could also improve the likelihood of a successful transplant. Scientists tested the Hi1a protein on beating human heart cells and saw the improvement of their survival.
Professor Peter Macdonald, one of the authors of the study, said: “Usually, if the donor heart has stopped beating for more than 30 minutes before retrieval, the heart can’t be used – even if we can buy an extra 10 minutes, that could make the difference between someone having a heart and someone missing out. For people who are literally on death’s door, this could be life-changing.”
In heart attack cases Hi1a could be administered by first responders right in the ambulance. The new drugs could significantly improve the outcomes of the heart attack and improve survivability. This would be especially important in more rural locations, where the trip to the hospital is usually the longest.
Venom is already used in medicine. Various different snake venoms are used in treating heart disease and even pain. Those are very powerful compounds and scientists are learning how to use them in more peaceful ways than nature intended.
Source: University of Queensland