Deadly spider venom could soon help repair damage from heart attacks

Australia’s Fraser Island funnel-web spider is one of the world’s most dangerous arachnids. This is because of the powerful fangs through which it delivers its potent venom, as well as the venom itself — which has recently come to the attention of scientists as a promising potential drug candidate to help heart attack victims.

A study from researchers at the University of Queensland and Sydney’s Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute zeroes in on a potential drug candidate derived from spider venom that blocks the “death signal” sent from the heart in the wake of a heart attack. The potential drug could fill in the current gap in available medicine working to help repair heart damage induced by cardiovascular disease.

The particular compound is a protein called Hi1a, and was originally identified in the venom of the Fraser Island funnel-web spider. In addition to helping heart attack victims recover, it could also eventually be used to extend the life of donor hearts and improve the likelihood of a successful transplant.

“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,” said Professor Peter Macdonald, one of the study’s authors.

“Usually, if the donor heart has stopped beating for more than 30 minutes before retrieval, the heart can’t be used,” Macdonald explained. “Even if we can buy an extra ten minutes, that could make the difference between someone having a heart and someone missing out. For people who are literally on death’s door, this could be life-changing.”

As explained by the study researchers, after a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is reduced. This results in a lack of oxygen to the heart muscles, causing the cell environment to become acidic which, in turn, triggers a message for the heart cells to die. The spider venom-based drug holds the promising potential to prevent this from happening. The drug has been tested in human heart cells and human clinical trials are expected to start in the next two to three years.

Study source: Circulation — Therapeutic Inhibition of Acid Sensing Ion Channel 1a Recovers Heart Function

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