Cairns research takes sting out of box jellyfish
GROUNDBREAKING research into how box jellyfish venom attacks the heart is set to change first aid treatments and could lead to easier heart transplant operations.
In a world first, James Cook University zoology honours student Stephanie Chaousis has found that a component of box jellyfish venom that stops the heart beating eventually wears off and allows the heart to fully recover.
Jellyfish venom expert Associate Professor Jamie Seymour, who oversaw Ms Chaousis' research, said the findings would transform first aid treatments.
"If a standard emergency physician is giving CPR to someone for 15 to 20 minutes and they've got no heart sound at the end of it, they'll call it and walk away because (they think) the person is not going to recover," he said.
"Steph's work now shows the complete opposite; that even after 20 minutes you keep going. It might take six or seven hours but they will come back to life."
The findings suggest a patient who is stung should receive CPR treatment immediately, continuing until they are placed on a heart and lung machine in hospital.
"If you keep the blood circulating the heart appears to be able to come back to life," he said.
"I suspect in the past we've called it too early but we never had the data to make that call without the information we've got now."
Using new technology, Ms Chaousis tested components of the venom on heart muscle cells.
Pharmaceutical and medical research companies have expressed interest, believing the venom could be used in heart transplants.
"If they want to transplant a heart, they first stress the heart and stop it from beating, but they can only do that for a finite period of time. Then they put it in a person and remove the stress and it comes back to life," Dr Seymour said.
A compound that causes the heart to stop but come back with no damage just might the next big thing for heart transplants.
"The time from when you remove the heart from the donor to when you get it to the recipient could be literally days instead of just three to four hours."
Dr Seymour said the next stage was to better understand how the venom compound worked.
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Breakthrough: JCU Masters student Stephanie Chaousis examines a box jellyfish. Picture: TOM LEE