Show me:
Show me:
Q&A with Dr Nathan Palpant
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Q&A with Dr Nathan Palpant

Deadly spider venom offers hope to people having a heart attack

Dr Nathan Palpant is a Heart Foundation Future Leader, Senior Research Fellow and Group Leader at the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience. He is also Co-Chair of the Heart Foundation’s Queensland Cardiovascular Research Network. Dr Palpant recently discovered that the venom of one of the world’s deadliest spiders could help protect the heart in people having a heart attack. This finding made headlines across the country, including ABC, 9News and Washington Post. It was even translated into 47 languages by International broadcaster Voice of America.   

What motivates you to do your research?

I have always been interested in the heart and also have a family history of cardiovascular disease. My mother almost died of a heart attack recently and my uncle passed away because of a heart attack a few years ago. This personal connection to cardiovascular disease is something many people share. It reflects the broader issue that cardiovascular disease is a major public health issue impacting our society more than any other disease. Working at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience has provided opportunities for my research group to work with world leaders in developing a new generation of medicines and treatments for people living with cardiovascular disease. 

What are you currently researching?

My laboratory aims to understand how heart cells work and respond to stress. Our research is providing new clues about molecules involved in controlling heart cells. We hope this will help address longstanding challenges in cardiovascular disease. I have built a team of talented individuals with different skill sets including physiologists, geneticists, computer scientists, and cell biologists. This diverse team enables us to ask research questions from many different perspectives. We are also working with health professionals, industry partners, and medicine development experts to design our research questions with the view to solving major health problems. Working together will help us identify where the gaps are to improve the lives of people with cardiovascular disease.  

What difference will your research make to people’s cardiovascular health in Australia?

The heart is one of the most sensitive organs in the body because it does not tolerate stresses caused by a lack of oxygen. This is what happens when someone has a heart attack and blood flow is blocked to parts of the heart. When blood flow through the heart’s arteries (coronary arteries) is blocked, heart muscle becomes damaged and billions of heart cells immediately begin to die. These cells are permanently lost because the heart has no ability to regenerate damaged tissue. While decades of research have uncovered incredible knowledge about the stress responses of the heart during a heart attack, no new medicines have made it to the clinic that stop heart cells from dying. 

This reveals a continuing major area of need for research. The findings from my research program focus on new knowledge, new medicines, and new technologies that enable major breakthroughs for cardiovascular health. We hope that our work not only informs international efforts to understand diseases of the heart, but also contributes critical new knowledge to deliver medicines and treatments.

Are there any recent discoveries from your research you can share with us?

Our recent work identified a new molecule called Hi1a, found in the venom of the Fraser Island funnel-web spider.  Hi1a has the remarkable ability to block heart cells from dying when the heart is stressed during a heart attack. We found that Hi1a prevents activation of a previously undiscovered channel, ASIC1a, that delivers a signal for cells to die when there isn’t enough oxygen to function and survive. We have shown that Hi1a helps cells tolerate this stress so that once doctors can restore blood flow after a heart attack, more heart cells survive. This improves the heart’s ability to function after the heart attack.   

This molecule has been tested in animal models and human heart cells we make from stem cells. So far, Hi1a has been shown to be both safe and very effective at protecting heart cells from dying. We are working with health professionals and medicine development experts to advance towards clinical testing, with the hope of addressing this major area of need.

What role has funding from the Heart Foundation had in your career journey?

Funding from the Heart Foundation has been critical for my research program. Without funding for our work, we cannot make the breakthroughs required to improve the lives of thousands of people every year. The path to discovery is very long. Often what we find in the laboratory takes years to reach the clinic, but investing in early discoveries is critical for delivering innovative ideas with major impacts.   

Who would have imagined that studying the venom of a funnel-web spider would deliver a possible new treatment for people who have had a heart attack? We need funding to support these fundamental building blocks of ideas and knowledge. Sometimes creativity and determination can lead to major breakthroughs like this.  





You might also be interested in

The Heart Foundation Alumni Program

The Heart Foundation Alumni Program

The Heart Foundation Alumni Program

Stay connected with your research alumni community. ...

Research Directory

Research Directory

GLOBAL CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

GLOBAL CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

GLOBAL CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

FACILITATING INTERNATIONAL CLINICAL TRIALS ...

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award

This funding is expected to produce tangible outcomes with the potential of creating high-impact change in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cardiovascular health research community. ...

Heart Foundation Research Award Recipients

Heart Foundation Research Award Recipients

Explore our research award recipients and projects...

Managing your funding

Managing your funding

Managing your funding

Resources to help manage your grant, scholarship or fellowship....

Collaboration and Exchange Award

Collaboration and Exchange Award

Our research stories

Our research stories

Our research stories

We fund amazing researchers who have important stories to tell...

NSW Cardiovascular Research Network

NSW Cardiovascular Research Network

NSW Cardiovascular Research Network

Encouraging cardiovascular research excellence in NSW ...

Future Leader Fellowship

Future Leader Fellowship

Stipend and project support funding for the best and brightest in cardiovascular research. ...

Heart Week 2022

Heart Week 2022

Heart Week 2022

With one Australian having a heart attack or stroke every 4 minutes, you have the power to change this statistic. ...

Health Professional Tools

Health Professional Tools

Health Professional Tools

Guidelines, publications and support for the health professional community....

Together, we can change the future of heart disease

Together, we can change the future of heart disease

Together, we can change the future of heart disease

The power of your ongoing support can help save lives and keep more families together. Help us continue to fund promising heart research projects by donating today. ...

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

If you're 45 and over, or 30 and over if you're of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, you should book your Heart Health Check today...

Understanding how kidney failure leads to heart disease

Understanding how kidney failure leads to heart disease

Associate Professor Natasha Rogers, Institution: University of Sydney...

Heart Bypass Surgery

Heart Bypass Surgery

Coronary bypass surgery is a common procedure that can dramatically improve the health of your heart. ...

Pumpkin soup

Pumpkin soup

35 minutes
Serves 4

Seafood recipes

Seafood recipes

Seafood recipes

Find heart healthy seafood recipes...

My Heart, My Life program and support resources

My Heart, My Life program and support resources

My Heart, My Life program and support resources

Learn how the Heart Foundation can support you and your loved ones. ...

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

What is heart valve disease?

Heart valve disease means that your heart valve or valves don't open or close properly....

Sydney Swans join with the Heart Foundation to give Aussie hearts a sporting chance

Sydney Swans join with the Heart Foundation to give Aussie hearts a sporting chance

Sydney Swans join with the Heart Foundation to give Aussie hearts a sporting chance

Media release - 7 July 2021...

Collaboration and Exchange Award

Collaboration and Exchange Award

Staying active for better heart health

Staying active for better heart health

Staying active for better heart health

Moving more every day is one of the best habits you can have....

Philanthropic investments

Philanthropic investments

Philanthropic investments

Making philanthropic investments through the Heart Foundation can transform Australians’ health. ...

Longitudinal Impact of CT-defined leaflet thrombosis after transcatheter aortic valve replacement

Longitudinal Impact of CT-defined leaflet thrombosis after transcatheter aortic valve replacement

Dr Hashrul Rashid, Institution: Monash University...

What is heart failure?

What is heart failure?

What is heart failure?

Heart failure is a condition where your heart isn’t pumping as well as it should be....

Beef recipes

Beef recipes

Beef recipes

Find heart healthy beef recipes....

Long-term Outcomes of Aortic Heart Valve Surgery in Children

Long-term Outcomes of Aortic Heart Valve Surgery in Children

Dr Michael Zhu, Institution: Murdoch Children's Research Institute...

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)

Clinical information and links to SCAD resources....

Key Statistics: Heart Failure

Key Statistics: Heart Failure

Statistics and information on heart failure in Australia ...

Heart Week

Heart Week

Take on the 3,000 Squats in April challenge

Take on the 3,000 Squats in April challenge

Take on the 3,000 Squats in April challenge

Think you could pull off 100 squats a day for an entire month? Join the 3,000 Squats in April challenge and help raise funds for lifesaving heart disease research. ...

Dessert recipes

Dessert recipes

Dessert recipes

Find heart healthy dessert recipes....

Hypertension clinical information and guidelines

Hypertension clinical information and guidelines

Clinical information for diagnosis and management of hypertension....

What is a heart attack?

What is a heart attack?

What is a heart attack?

The most common cause of a heart attack is coronary heart disease....

Capturing hearts with wearable devices and smart home technology

Capturing hearts with wearable devices and smart home technology

Capturing hearts with wearable devices and smart home technology

This World Heart Day, get to know two talented researchers and their innovative, life-saving work funded by the Heart Foundation....

Medical tests for heart disease

Medical tests for heart disease

Medical tests for heart disease

Learn about the common tests your doctor may want you to have to diagnose your heart condition....

Predictive monitoring for early detection of cardiac dysfunction in preterm babies

Predictive monitoring for early detection of cardiac dysfunction in preterm babies

Associate Professor Flora Wong, Institution: Monash University...

Nutrition after a heart attack

Nutrition after a heart attack

Nutrition after a heart attack

Discover key information on heart-healthy eating and drinking....