Venom from the deadly funnel web spider can be used to protect the brain from devastating stroke damage, scientists have found.
Australian researchers were sequencing the DNA of the venom when they discovered a compound, which they say could protect brain cells even when injected hours after a stroke has occurred.
"We believe that we have, for the first time, found a way to minimise the effects of brain damage after a stroke," Professor Glenn King, from the UQ Institute for Molecular Bioscience, told AAP.
The scientists at the University of Queensland and Monash University made the discovery when they were examining venom extracted from spiders found in Queensland's Orchid beach, 400 kilometres north of Brisbane.
While the venom from these spiders can kill a human within 15 minutes, the protein they discovered, Hi1, is not only harmless, but could be a game-changer in treating strokes.
It stood out for scientists because it looked like two copies of another chemical that can protect brain cells. However, “it proved to be even more potent,” Professor King said.
A stroke is a brain attack that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, depriving it of oxygen. When this happens, the brain burns glucose, producing acid, which can kill brain cells.
During the tests on rats, the Hi1 molecule was found to block acid-sensing in channels in the brain.
A dose of the protein two hours after the stroke cut down the brain damage in rats by 80%, Professor King wrote in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Even when it was given eight hours after the attack, it reduced damage to the brain by about 65%.
"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.