Stopping 'death signal': Scientists look to repair hearts using deadly spider venom

Published on Jul 16, 2021 04:52 PM IST

The University of Queensland stated that the research team was aiming for human clinical trials “for both stroke and heart disease within two to three years.”

The researchers have developed a drug candidate from a molecule found in the venom of the Fraser Island funnel-web spider.(University of Queensland)
The researchers have developed a drug candidate from a molecule found in the venom of the Fraser Island funnel-web spider.(University of Queensland)
By | Edited by Kunal Gaurav, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

A group of Australian scientists are looking to halt the harmful effects of heart attack by using the venom of one of the world’s deadliest spiders. The researchers have developed a drug candidate from a molecule found in the venom of the Fraser Island funnel-web spider to stop the “death signal” sent by the heart that leads to cardiac arrest.

The development of experimental medicine, which has only been tested in the lab so far, has been led by Dr Nathan Palpant and Professor Glenn King from The University of Queensland and Professor Peter Macdonald from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute. Explaining the ‘death signal’, Dr Palpant said that the heart attack causes a reduction in blood flow to the heart which subsequently results in a lack of oxygen to the heart muscle.

“The lack of oxygen causes the cell environment to become acidic, which combine to send a message for heart cells to die,” Dr Palpant said in a statement published by the University of Queensland, adding that the scientists have not been able to develop a drug that stops the death signal despite decades of research.

Also Read | Aspirin can reduce risk of heart attacks, strokes in pneumonia patients: Study

The team has successfully tested a protein from spider venom, called Hi1a, on beating human heart cells exposed to heart attack stresses to see if the drug improved their survival. According to the study, the protein blocks acid-sensing ion channels in the heart, reducing cell deaths and improving the survival of heart cells.

“This will not only help the hundreds of thousands of people who have a heart attack every year around the world, it could also increase the number and quality of donor hearts, which will give hope to those waiting on the transplant list,” Macdonald said.

The University of Queensland said that the discovery builds on earlier work by King who identified a small protein in the deadly spider that was shown to improve recovery from stroke. It further stated that the research team was aiming for human clinical trials “for both stroke and heart disease within two to three years.”

The research paper has been published in the latest edition of the journal Circulation.

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