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Spider venom peptide may hold key to prevent brain damage caused by stroke


21 March 2017

Professor Robert Widdop and Dr Claudia McCarthy

A peptide identified in funnel web spider venom that could protect the brain from stroke-induced injury has been discovered by researchers from The University of Queensland and Monash University.

UQ Institute for Molecular Bioscience researcher Professor Glenn King, who led the research, said the small protein showed great promise as a future stroke treatment.

“We believe that we have, for the first time, found a way to minimise the effects of brain damage after a stroke,” Professor King said.

“The small protein we discovered, Hi1a, blocks acid-sensing ion channels in the brain, which are key drivers of brain damage after stroke,” Professor King said.

The UQ researchers teamed up with Monash researchers, led by Professor Robert Widdop and Dr Claudia McCarthy from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, who conducted the preclinical studies to test the novel peptide. Strikingly, they found that a single dose of Hi1a administered up to eight hours after stroke protected brain tissue and drastically improved neurological performance.

“One of the most exciting things about Hi1a is that it provides exceptional levels of protection for eight hours after stroke onset, which is a remarkably long window of opportunity for treatment,” said Professor Widdop.

“This incredible discovery will help us provide better outcomes for stroke survivors by limiting the brain damage and disability caused by this devastating injury,” Professor Widdop said.

Stroke claims six million lives worldwide each year, and five million survivors are left with a permanent disability.

“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,” Professor King said.

“We are now working to secure financial support to fast-track this promising stroke therapy towards clinical trials.”

This research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It involved scientists from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience, School of Biomedical Sciences, Queensland Brain Institute, and Centre for Advanced Imaging; and Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute and Department of Pharmacology.