Spider Venom Could Help Save Brains After Strokes


You may not like the look of your savior, but this species of spider has a molecule in its venom that protects against the damage after strokes. Bastian Rast

Fellow student Irene Chassagnon found the funnel-web molecule, dubbed Hi1a, is far more effective than PcTx1 at blocking ASIC1a, something King ascribed to small differences we don't as yet understand. The trio report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that when given to rats that had suffered ischemic strokes, Hi1a greatly reduced the damage hours after the stroke had occurred.

King explained to IFLScience, “We only have one current drug for strokes, and it only works if applied within a few hours. Less than 40 percent of people get surgical treatment.” Consequently, for many stroke victims it is a case of wait and hope. The situation is made worse by the fact that the existing drug for ischemic strokes dramatically worsens hemorrhagic strokes. Consequently, precious time is taken up establishing which sort of stroke has occurred.

Hi1a is yet to be tested for hemorrhagic strokes, but if it turns out to be even neutral, let alone beneficial, it could be applied to stroke patients on the way to hospital before the stroke type has been identified. Moreover, if the rodent findings translate to humans, Hi1a will save brain cells hours after existing treatments have ceased to provide any benefit.

There are obvious problems with getting informed consent from stroke victims or their families in the frantic first hours, but King hopes trials can be conducted soon, particularly in cases where alternatives are unsuitable. To arachnophobes' relief, King adds that while funnel-webs are “the easiest venomous animals to milk” there will be no need for a funnel-web farming industry, as Hi1a can already be produced by genetically modified bacteria, and yeast or chemical synthesis should provide cheaper options if mass production is required.


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