Spider venom stroke treatment slows damage to the brain

By 2050, it's estimated that one million Australians will be living with the effects of a stroke, and 65 per cent of these people will no longer be able to carry out daily living activities unassisted.

How a stroke damages the brain

When a stroke occurs, the brain becomes deprived of oxygen due to the reduced blood supply. Without oxygen, lactic acidosis sets in. This turns on acid-sensing ion channels which initiate a deadly chain reaction that spreads through the brain like a wave. Like destruction in the wake of a tsunami, this wave destroys neurons, the working units of the brain.

But unlike devastated towns after a tsunami, you cannot rebuild neurons after a stroke; the damage is irreversible. Every second counts. For every minute that the wave is left unchecked, two million neurons are permanently lost. There is no current treatment available that can be administered outside of a hospital – and for many, the time it takes to get to a hospital means the treatment comes far too late, or not at all.

Stroke treatment on the horizon

Researchers at IMB have uncovered a peptide sourced from spider venom that blocks the and acid-sensing channel, and stops the wave of post-stroke destruction. The peptide, called Hi1a, can be given as soon as a stroke is detected.

Our researchers discovered Hi1a in one of the world’s deadliest spiders — the Fraser Island funnel-web.

Professor Glenn King is leader of the research team working on Hi1a. His team have shown the peptide is effective in animal models of stroke, and they are now conducting additional experiments to progress the treatment to Phase 1 human clinical trials.

"This treatment is desperately needed," said Professor King. Stroke is the second most common cause of death in the world, with one death occurring every five seconds. We believe that we have found a treatment that will greatly minimise the brain damage caused by stroke. This venom-derived peptide has the potential to completely change the management of stroke and not only save lives but transform quality of life for survivors."

Translating venom into drugs

Professor Glenn King is a biochemist and structural biologist whose expertise lies in translating venom-derived peptides into human drugs and natural insecticides. His lab maintains the most extensive collection of venoms in the world, which includes venoms from more than 650 species of venomous spiders, scorpions, centipedes and assassin bugs.

Professor King’s primary focus is on the development of drugs to treat three pervasive nervous system disorders: epilepsy, stroke and chronic pain. His lab is working closely with several pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs for clinical use.

 

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