MAR 23, 2017 2:50 PM PDT

Deadly Spider Venom Inspires New Treatment for Strokes

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Australia is famous for harboring many of the world’s deadliest creatures. And while people would be wise to avoid any encounter with these Australian critters, scientists are actively seeking a particularly deadly spider, the venom from which may reduce brain damage from a stroke.

The spider in the spotlight is the Australian funnel-web spider, which many consider to be the world’s deadliest spider because of the speed and intensity of the venom from a single bite. Funnel-web spiders have been documented to kill a person within 15 minutes. In the last 100 years, the funnel-web spider was responsible for nearly half of Australia’s spider-bite-related deaths.

Given this menacing record, why would anyone want to get near a funnel-web spider? As it turns out, venom can provide important clues into biological pathways, some of which may be exploited as treatment for human diseases.

"My lab is interested in developing drugs for human nervous system disorders. Many of these disorders involve either dysfunctional ion channels (e.g. epilepsy) or over-active ion channels (chronic pain and stroke),” said Dr. Glenn King, a researcher from the University of Queensland and Monash University.

“Thus, we are typically looking for molecules that modulate the activity of ion channels. The venoms of small venomous invertebrates such as spiders, centipedes and scorpions have evolved to target the nervous system of insects, and consequently they are absolutely full of ion channel modulators,” King explained.

“Because the human nervous system is more complex and wired differently to insects, ion channel modulators that kill or paralyse insects can actually be beneficial to humans. Thus, looking in venoms for ion channel drugs is not as weird as it seems."

In the lab, the researchers coaxed the spiders into producing venom for collection. They also studied the venom glands to understand the venom biology and secretion.

From tests, the team found that giving rats a single dose of a protein Hi1a derived from the venom was successful at reducing brain damage from a stroke.

"We believe that we have, for the first time, found a way to minimize the effects of brain damage after a stroke,” said King. "Hi1a even provides some protection to the core brain region most affected by oxygen deprivation, which is generally considered unrecoverable due to the rapid cell death caused by stroke."

This is not the first instance where toxins and venoms are explored as alternative therapies for human diseases. The venom from the blue coral snakes have also been under investigation for new pain therapies.

Additional sources: BBC

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
AUG 06, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Device Diagnoses Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes
AUG 06, 2020
Device Diagnoses Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes
Researchers have created a point-of-care device that can provide diagnostic results for breast cancer in under an hour. ...
AUG 13, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
A Call for Bigger, Better Studies on AI Breast Cancer Diagnostics
AUG 13, 2020
A Call for Bigger, Better Studies on AI Breast Cancer Diagnostics
A staggering 1 in 8 women in the U.S. will develop an aggressive form of breast cancer in their lifetime, making it the ...
AUG 16, 2020
Microbiology
Newly Discovered Gut Enzyme Could Function as Disease Biomarker
AUG 16, 2020
Newly Discovered Gut Enzyme Could Function as Disease Biomarker
Bacteria in the gut have a powerful influence on our health, in part because all of those microbes have genes of their o ...
SEP 01, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Scalp Implants Monitor Epileptic Seizures
SEP 01, 2020
Scalp Implants Monitor Epileptic Seizures
Neuroscientists have developed devices that, when implanted under the scalp of individuals living with epilepsy, can mon ...
SEP 21, 2020
Cancer
The Protein ETV1 May Act as a Biomarker for Gastrointestinal Cancer
SEP 21, 2020
The Protein ETV1 May Act as a Biomarker for Gastrointestinal Cancer
Cancer is an incredibly diverse disease. It has many types and even sub-types, with a vast range of characteristics. Som ...
OCT 23, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Follow Your Heart: A Genetic Predictor of Cardiovascular Disease
OCT 23, 2020
Follow Your Heart: A Genetic Predictor of Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death globally, resulting in the loss of nearly 18 million lives each yea ...
Loading Comments...