Doctors have recently found an unusual ingredient for a medication to heal brain damage caused by having a stroke. Believe it or not, it comes from the venom of one of the most deadly spiders on the planet!
Being bitten by an Austrailian Funnel Web Spider will kill a human in under 15 minutes. However, a safe ingredient in their venom protects brain cells from destruction during a stroke, even hours after having one.
As long as this goes well in human trials, it may become the first medication doctors have to protect against losing neurons during a stroke.
Researchers discovered the molecule by accident while sequencing the toxin DNA in the Darling Downs funnel web spider venom. Darling Downs live in New South Wales and Queensland. Scientists gathered the venom of three spiders for the study after capturing them north of Brisbane on Orchid Beach.
The molecule they found is known as Hi1a. It stood out because it looks similar to two brain-cell protecting chemicals stuck together. Scientists were so intrigued that they chose to synthesize and test the compounds powers.
When a stroke occurs, the oxygen levels in the brain drop, forcing it to burn glucose, its primary fuel, differently. The brain goes into anaerobic glycolysis rather than oxidizing glucose for energy. The reaction causes energy to be released for the brain to continue functioning. However, it also creates acid causing brain cells to die off.
In a study done on rats, a small single dose of the venom protected the neurons from strokes. It works by blocking the cells ion channels that respond to the acidic condition of the brain.
Administering the Hi1a compound in the rats even two hours after a stroke reduced brain damage by 80%. And Hi1a was even effective eight hours after the stroke, lowering the amount of brain damage by 65%.
The rats with the venom compound recover much better than those without it. Some rats even recovered their brain functions back to normal!
Researchers are hoping to begin human trials within two years, but have a few more experiments to conduct first. They will find out if the venom compound works in all stroke cases, and if it will be safe to use with ruptured blood vessels in the brain. In the recent studies, they infused the molecule into the brain directly, but have since found that nasal delivery will work as well.