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The deadly venom of Australia's Darling Downs funnel-web spider may one day be used to treat stroke patients.
Researchers at the University of Queensland and Monash University have discovered a protein found in the DNA of the spider's venom can protect the brain from damage in the crucial hours after a stroke.
"We believe that we have, for the first time, found a way to minimise the effects of brain damage after a stroke," said Professor Glenn King from the UQ Institute for Molecular Bioscience.
During a stroke, brain cells die because of a lack of oxygen and glucose caused by an obstruction to blood flow to organs.
Hi1a works by blocking acid-sensing in channels in the brain, the key drivers of brain damage after stroke.
Preclinical studies in rats, published in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, showed a single dose of Hi1a administered up to eight hours after a stroke protected brain tissue and drastically improved neurological performance.
Prof King says this protein offers an "exceptional" level of protection during a reasonably lengthy window of opportunity for treatment.
"Hi1a even provides some protection to the core brain region most affected by oxygen deprivation, which is generally considered unrecoverable due to the rapid cell death caused by stroke."
Stroke is one of Australia's biggest killers and a leading cause of disability, striking someone every 10 minutes.
Prof King says this unlikely small protein holds great promise for the future treatment of stroke.
"This world-first discovery will help us provide better outcomes for stroke survivors by limiting the brain damage and disability caused by this devastating injury," he said.
Researchers are now working to secure financial support to fast-track this promising stroke therapy towards clinical trials.