Fraser Island spider could save heart attack victims

Researchers have discovered a treatment for heart attack victims in the most unexpected of places — the venom of one of the world’s deadliest spiders.

A team from the University of Queensland have developed a potentially life-saving drug candidate from a molecule found in the venom of the Fraser Island funnel-web spider.

The researchers say the drug can prevent damage caused by heart attacks and extend the life of donor hearts used for organ transplants.

The team was led by Dr Nathan Palpant and Professor Glenn King from UQ and Professor Peter Macdonald from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute.

Dr Palpant said the drug worked by stopping a “death signal” from being sent after a heart attack.

“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 continues to be the leading cause of death in the world,” Dr Palpant said in a statement.

He tested the drug candidate, a protein called Hi1a, using beating human heart cells exposed to heart attack stresses to see if the drug improved their survival.

Incredibly, the protein blocked acid-sensing ion channels in the heart, causing the death message to be blocked and the cell death to be reduced.

If clinical trials prove successful, the team will have developed the first drug that can be used in clinical settings that prevents damage caused by heart attacks.

“Usually, if the donor heart has stopped beating for more than 30 minutes before retrieval, the heart can’t be used — even if we can buy an extra 10 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,” Prof Macdonald said.

“For heart attack victims, our vision for the future is that Hi1a could be administered by first responders in the ambulance, which would really change the health outcomes of heart disease.”

He added that the treatment would be particularly useful in rural and remote parts of Australia where patients typically are a long distance from their nearest hospital.

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