Australian researchers discovered a potentially life-saving treatment for heart attacks from a highly unlikely source: the venom of one of the world’s deadliest spiders.
A drug candidate developed from a molecule found in the venom of the funnel-web spider from Fraser Island (K’gari) may prevent damage from a heart attack, as well as extend the life of hearts of donors for organ transplants.
The discovery was made by a team led by Professor Peter Macdonald of the Victor Chang Heart Research Institute in Australia and colleagues at the University of Queensland.
Macdonald said this incredible result has been in the works for decades:
“This will not only help the hundreds of thousands of people who have a heart attack each year, but it could also increase the quantity and quality of donor hearts, giving hope to those waiting on the transplant list.” .
Dr Palpant, from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), said the drug candidate worked by stopping a ‘death signal’ sent from the heart in the wake of an attack.
“After a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is reduced, resulting in a lack of oxygen to the heart muscle. The lack of oxygen causes the cellular environment to become acidic, which combines to send a message to the cells of the heart to die. “
“Despite decades of research, no one has been able to develop a drug that stops this death signal in heart cells, which is one of the reasons why heart disease remains the world’s leading cause of death.”
Dr. Palpant tested the drug candidate, a protein called Hi1a, using beating human heart cells exposed to the stress of a heart attack to see if the drug improved their survival.
“The Hi1a protein from spider venom blocks acid-sensitive ion channels in the heart, so the death message is blocked, cell death is reduced and we see an improvement in the survival of heart cells.”
Currently there are no drugs in clinical use that prevent the damage caused by heart attacks.
“The survival of cardiac cells is vital in heart transplants; treating hearts with Hi1a and reducing cell death will increase the distance the heart can be transported and improve the likelihood of a successful transplant, ”Macdonald said.
“Usually if the donor’s heart has stopped beating for more than 30 minutes before recovery, the heart cannot be used, even if we can buy an additional 10 minutes, that could make the difference between someone who has a heart. and someone who misses it. . For people who are literally on the verge of death, this could be life changing. “
The small protein in the venom of this spider was shown to markedly enhance recovery from stroke, “strikingly reducing damage to the brain even when given up to eight hours after stroke onset,” said Professor Glenn King of the UQ.
“For heart attack victims, our vision for the future is that the first responders in the ambulance can deliver Hi1a, which would really change the health outcomes of heart disease.”
This would be particularly important in rural and remote areas where patients are far from hospitals, when every second counts.
This could also allow the transport of donor hearts over longer distances and thus increase the network of donors and recipients available.
Dr. Sarah Scheuer says her research, published In the diary Circulation, initially only looked at the effect of venom, but moved down a whole new path of discovery when they identified a specific pathway that played a key role in heart tissue damage after oxygen loss.
“We discovered that an acid-sensitive ion channel played an important role in causing damage to the heart. By blocking that channel, we were able to prevent some of the injuries that often occur. “
The protein has been tested in human heart cells, and the team is aiming for human clinical trials for both stroke and heart disease to begin within two to three years, possibly leading to a new way to reverse. the damage of heart attacks by using a powerful antidote derived from the spider.
(Source: Victor Chang Heart Research Institute)
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