The venom of one of the deadliest spiders in the world could protect us from the damage of a heart attack

The venom of one of the deadliest spiders in the world could protect us from the damage of a heart attack

The Hi1a protein in funnel web spider venom can block the cell death signal following a heart attack and extend the time for heart transplants

(image: Institute for Molecular Bioscience / University of Queensland) A life-saving drug could be made from one of the deadliest known poisons, that of the funnel web spider (Hadronyche infensa). According to researchers from the University of Queensland, the Hi1a protein contained in the venom is able to block the cell death signal that occurs when a heart attack occurs, thus limiting damage to the heart. Not only that, the action of this protein would also make it possible to "extend the life" of a heart explanted from a donor, giving greater chances of success for transplants. The research was published in Circulation.

Heart attack

A heart attack is an event that blocks the blood supply to the heart and reduces the supply of oxygen, damaging the tissues. But the cells do not die for this alone: ​​the metabolism of the affected area changes and products that acidify the pH accumulate, constituting a further signal that pushes towards cell death.

This type of damage, which in medicine it is called ischemia-reperfusion injury, it is one of the reasons why cardiac events remain at the top of the sad ranking of the main causes of death in the world. A big problem in general, but which is amplified in countries such as Australia, where distances from treatment centers may be such that they do not arrive in time to intervene. And a really effective drug, for the moment, does not exist.

Stop cell death

Researchers at the University of Queensland, however, believe they have an excellent candidate, a molecule obtained from the venom of the extremely dangerous funnel web spider, which in preclinical tests has been shown to be able to block cell death signals and contain heart attack damage. This molecule, called Hi1a, is an inhibitor of a type of ion channel (Asic1) found on the surface of heart cells and which is sensitive to the acidic environment. When administered within 8 hours of the ischemic event, Hi1a significantly decreases tissue damage. The hope of the researchers, however, is that it can be used already during the first aid phases, to radically change the outcome of the heart attack.

From stroke to heart attack, to heart transplants

This spider venom protein has actually been talked about for a few years. In 2017, the same research group had always tested the effect of Hi1a on stroke damage, cerebral ischemia, on cellular and animal models. In that study, the molecule was shown to reduce stroke damage by up to 80%.

Now scientists would like to move on to the next phase, experimentation within 2-3 years (in fact, tests are still needed) clinical, both to contain the damage of stroke and heart attack in the human being.

Another interesting application of the Hi1a protein could concern the field of heart transplants. A heart explanted from a donor can be re-implanted in a person within a limited time interval, beyond which the damage to the tissues is too great for the organ to start functioning well again. For the Australian team, however, the use of Hi1a on the heart to be transplanted should extend this interval, increasing the chances of success. In short, it could make a difference.

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