An ingredient from the venom of one of the world’s most deadly spiders can protect brain cells following a stroke, according to a study on rats published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
If the protective molecule, called Hi1a, found in the venom of the Australian Darling Downs funnel-web spider, is effective in human trials, it would be the first drug to prevent the loss of neurons following stroke.
The molecule was discovered by chance when researchers noticed that it is similar in appearance to another brain cell-protecting chemical.
In experiments on rats, researchers have been able to show that a small dose of Hi1a protects neurons from induced strokes. When Hi1a was administered two hours after stroke, brain damage was reduced by 80 per cent. After eight hours, damage was reduced by about 65 per cent.
The researchers behind the discovery hope to begin human trials within two years.
Glenn King, from the University of Queensland’s centre for pain research, said: ‘The untreated rats performed very badly after stroke. Their neurological and motor performance were terrible. But treatment with Hi1a almost restored these functions to normal.
‘The drug could be given in the ambulance to most stroke patients before hospital arrival, maximising the number of neurons that can be saved. This should diminish the mortality from stroke and provide much better outcomes for those that survive as more brain function will be retained.’
Despite the fact that six million people die from a stroke each year, with a further five million being left disabled, there are still no treatments available to treat the nerve damage caused to the brain by oxygen starvation in a stroke. This laboratory research raises the tantalising possibility that the Hi1a protein could protect brain cells from being destroyed by a stroke, even hours after the stroke has occurred.
However, even before basic human trials can start to evaluate this in more detail, the compound now needs further research to see if it could work in all cases of stroke. If it does then stroke treatment could be revolutionised in the future.
Research score: 4/5