Spider venom may be deadly, but it comes with some advantages. In the past, research has found that venom could alleviate pain without causing any adverse side effects.
Now, new research out of Australia's University of Queensland is indicating that the venom of the Fraser Island (K’gari) funnel-web spider can help prevent damage caused by a heart attack and even extend the life of donor hearts.
If the research sounds vaguely familiar it's because, in July of 2019, University of Queensland researchers discovered a molecule in a deadly spider's venom that can stave off brain damage when someone suffers a stroke.
“What it's doing is preventing the death of heart muscle cells,” Lead researcher professor Glenn King had said at the time.
The researchers had found that the molecule worked to protect the heart from strokes, so they decided to experiment to see if it would work for ischemic events in the heart, and they discovered that it did indeed.
Since then, researchers at Queensland have been steadily building on this work to come to today's results regarding heart attacks.
“After a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is reduced, resulting in a lack of oxygen to heart muscle,” research team lead Dr. Nathan Palpant said in a statement. “The lack of oxygen causes the cell environment to become acidic, which combine to send a message for heart cells to die.”
The drug candidate developed from the spider's venom works by stopping this "death signal" sent from the heart in the wake of an attack, and it's truly quite revolutionary.
“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," added Palpant.
The drug candidate is a protein called Hi1a. So far, the researchers have tested it using beating human heart cells exposed to heart attack stresses. They found that the Hi1a blocked acid-sensing ion channels in the heart, successfully stopping the death signal.
The protein will now also be used to extend the life span of organ transplants. “The survival of heart cells is vital in heart transplants — treating hearts with Hi1a and reducing cell death will increase how far the heart can be transported and improve the likelihood of a successful transplant," concluded Professor MacDonald, a senior cardiologist at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.