Protein From Deadly Spider Venom Could Be The Answer To Treating Heart Attacks


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ‘about 655,000 Americans die from heart disease each year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths.’ It’s no wonder that millions of dollars are put into research and development of medicine, treatments, and possible cures for a variety of health issues that plague the human race, especially for heart problems.

For one Australian research team, they might have recently discovered a ‘potentially life-saving treatment for heart attacks,’ in one of the unlikeliest places they ever thought to look. What they found is that the venom of one of the world’s deadliest creatures that ever crawled on the earth, the Fraser Island (K’gari) funnel web spider, could possibly save thousands of lives.

The drug candidate was developed from a molecule that was found in the venom of the said spider, which has the ability to stop the damage that comes from someone having a heart attack. It can also help extend the life of donor hearts to be used in organ transplants as well.

Professor Peter Macdonald and his team from the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Australia, alongside some colleagues from The University of Queensland, made the discovery. Professor Macdonald explained that their amazing outcome was not exactly brand new but in fact, actually decades in the making.

He shared, “This will not only help the hundreds of thousands of people who have a heart attack every year, it could also increase the number and quality of donor hearts, which will give hope to those waiting on the transplant list.”

According to Dr. Palpant, who belongs to the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), explained that the drug candidate created from the deadly spider’s venom works by stopping the “death signal” that’s ‘sent from the heart in the wake of an attack.’

Dr. Palpant explains, “After a heart attack, blood flow to the heart is reduced, resulting in a lack of oxygen to heart muscle. The lack of oxygen causes the cell environment to become acidic, which combine to send a message for heart cells 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 continues to be the leading cause of death in the world,” he adds.

In order to test the drug candidate, a protein called Hi1a, Dr. Palpant used ‘beating human heart cells exposed to heart attack stresses to see if the drug improved their survival.’

Dr. Palpant shared, “The Hi1a protein from spider venom blocks acid-sending ion channels in the heart, so the death message is blocked, cell death is reduced, and we see improved heart cell survival.”

Notably, there are no other drugs or medication in clinical use that can stop the damaged caused by heart attacks currently.

Professor Macdonald said, “The survival of heart cells is vital in heart transplants – treating hearts with Hi1a and reducing cell death will increase how far the heart can be transported and improve the likelihood of a successful transplant.”

“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,” he added.

University of Queensland Professor, Glenn King, also explained how the small protein found in the venom of this deadly spider managed to remarkably improve one’s recovery from stroke, “amazingly reducing damage to the brain even when it is given up to eight hours after stroke onset.”

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

Moreover, this is the type of treatment that could be the difference between life and death – since really every second counts – especially if it can be used in the more remote or rural areas where patients are particularly far away from any hospital or medical center.

Meanwhile, this could also be used in transporting donor hearts from one area to another for longer periods of time or longer distances, which means that it can also help increase the network of heart donor and heart recipient availability for possible transplants.

Their research was published in the medical journal Circulation. Dr. Sarah Scheuer, who was part of the team, shares how the research first started by only considering the effect of the venom, but it eventually moved towards an entirely new path of exploration and findings when the team managed to identify ‘a specific pathway’ that had a substantial role in the damage of heart tissue after oxygen loss caused by a heart attack.

She explained, “We found that an acid-sensing ion channel played a significant role in causing injury to the heart. By blocking that channel, we were able to prevent some of the injury that usually occurs.”

While the protein has already been tested in the heart cells of humans, the research team is also hoping that it can begin human clinical trials in both stroke and heart disease patients within the next two to three years. If this happens, it could possibly lead to a new ways of reversing damage that comes from heart attacks, which in the end, could all be due to the incredibly potent and life-changing antidote taken from an astonishingly deadly spider.