Scientists Find Potential New Use for Spider Venom

Poison from funnel web spider reduced brain damage in rats after strokes
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 21, 2017 11:17 AM CDT
Spider Venom Could Stave Off Brain Damage From Stroke
Pick your poison: spider venom or brain damage?   (Getty Images/tbradford)

Almost 6 million people die from a stroke each year, and although scientists aren't recommending spider bites to remedy that, the poison contained in one particular arachnid may fend off stroke-related brain damage, the Guardian reports. In a study published in the PNAS journal, Australian scientists discovered that just a tiny amount of a peptide called Hi1a, found in the venom of the Darling Downs funnel web spider (Hadronyche infensa), was able to cut down on brain damage in rats by 80% if it was given two hours after the rats had suffered a stroke. And the effects were still significant when Hi1a was administered eight hours after the stroke, leading to a 65% reduction. The discovery was made somewhat by accident after researchers had "milked exhaustively" three funnel web spiders they'd gathered in Brisbane to study their toxins.

They noticed one peculiar-looking molecule that looked like a mega version of a brain-cell-protecting chemical—so they tested it to see if it might help cells starved of oxygen by strokes. Rats that didn't receive the H1iA "performed very badly" after their stroke, study co-author Glenn King says, while those who did get it were nearly as good as new. "We believe that we have, for the first time, found a way to minimize the effects of brain damage after a stroke," says King, per the Sydney Morning Herald. The researchers warn that the results can't yet be extrapolated to humans and that it's unclear whether the peptide would work in strokes caused by blood vessel ruptures, as well as those caused by blockages. One scientist not involved in the study called it "a very exciting discovery and a very big effect," but cautioned that any practical applications are years away. (Rare snake venom could one day provide humans with pain relief.)

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