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When someone has a stroke, no treatment can begin until they are transported to hospital

For the tens of thousands of Australians who will experience a stroke this year, the first few hours of that awful experience will be critical to their survival. A University of Queensland researcher has developed the possibility for a new drug using a protein taken from funnel web spider venom which could help save the lives of rural and remote Australians.

Imagine watching every second, of every minute, of every hour tick by in the back of an ambulance on a dusty outback road while travelling to the nearest major hospital. 

Imagine knowing that your loved one’s brain function – their memories of you, your family, your life – and even their ability to breathe and move is slipping away. 

Unfortunately, when someone has a stroke, no treatment can begin until they are transported to hospital, their brain is imaged, and the type of stroke that they had can be determined. 

During that time, they are losing two million neurons per minute, meaning any delay can be devastating on their brain, even if they survive. 

According to world-leading biochemist Professor Glenn King from The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), the only available stroke treatment must be administered in a hospital within a very tight timeframe.

“You have just four-and-a-half hours, in which time you must already be within a hospital, be scanned and be with a specialist ready to administer the drug,” Professor King explained.

“Most Australians living in remote locations have slim chances of making this window.” 

But a new drug candidate has emerged that could provide more time and better recovery options to survivors. And, critically, it can be administered immediately by a first responder, such as a paramedic. 

Professor King and a team of researchers developed the drug candidate from a protein sourced from the venom of the Fraser Island funnel-web spider, and they have found that it can stop brain death after a stroke.

“In this case, the protein from the venom shuts off a specific ion pathway in the brain that is responsible for triggering massive cell death after stroke,” he said. 

“It can protect the brain even when delivered up to eight hours after a stroke, and patients wouldn’t have to wait to get to hospital before receiving it.”

The drug candidate has been successful in early animal trials, but Professor King said further funding was needed to push it through to clinical trials.

“We do not have the capacity to produce enough of the drug needed to conduct the next clinical trial in our own labs. We need donations and support to help us engage a company to make a quantity large enough for us to run the next stage of trials.”

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