A potentially life-saving treatment for heart attack victims has been found in the most unlikely of sources. The source is the venom, or venom of one of the world’s deadliest spiders.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally, claiming about 17.9 million lives every year.
Researchers at the University of Queensland have found that the venom of the Fraser Island funnel-web spider in Eastern Australia contains peptides, molecules that can save lives.
Known as Hi1a, this molecule can inhibit the delivery of so-called death signals to cells after a heart attack, when blood flow to the heart is reduced. Lack of oxygen to the heart muscles increases the acidity of the heart cells, and this sends a death signal or message to the heart cells.
Despite decades of research, scientists have not been able to create a drug that stops these death signals. Australian experts have said that is one reason why heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death worldwide.
Dr. Sarah Scheuer is a researcher at the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, which took part in research into spider venom.
He said the findings could also help heart transplant patients.
Scheuer says, “We use a small amount of this particular peptide from a small portion of funnel-web spider venom. Well, what we found was that this peptide could help protect a heart that is experiencing a lack of blood supply or blood flow. And we found that it can also be used not only in heart transplants, when the donor heart is outside the body during the transplant process, but also has the potential to be used in cardiac arrest victims to minimize the damage done.”
Australian researchers believe that this molecule from spider venom inhibits the heart’s ability to sense acidity after a heart attack, thereby confounding the message of death.
They stated their vision for the future was that Hi1a could be provided by first aid workers in ambulances.
The findings build on previous research that found a small protein in the venom of the Fraser Island funnel-web spider significantly improved recovery in stroke patients.
This protein has been tested in human heart cells, and the Australian research team is looking to start clinical trials for heart disease and stroke within two to three years. The research was published in the journal Circulation. [uh/ab]