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From preventing brain damage to building skin grafts, recent medical breakthroughs have been accomplished thanks to animals or insects. Whether it's by doctors using their venom or researchers studying their behavior to help humans heal, creatures big and small have greatly contributed to the following medical marvels.
Here's a look at nine of them:
Hobo SpidersSlide 2 of 19
Researchers at the University of Queensland have been studying the feared hobo spider (Tegenaria agrestis), whose painful bite contains venom that can kill human tissue and eat away at human flesh. (In the U.S., the spider is found in the Pacific Northwest.)
The hobo spider's venom contains a potent neurotoxin that can be put to good use, treating nervous system disorders such as chronic pain , according to the scientists. Study researcher Mehdi Mobli presented his findings on Sept. 27 at the annual conference for the Australian Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, held in Cairns, Australia.Slide 3 of 19
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A compound found in bear bile may help people recover after a heart attack, researchers from Imperial College London have found. Previous studies have shown that the synthesized compound, called ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), can lower cholesterol and dissolve gallstones.
The new study shows UDCA can also be used to treat abnormal heart rhythms , or arrhythmia, by helping the heart muscle conduct electrical signals more normally, according to the study,.
UDCA does this by changing the electrical properties of myofibroblast cells, which are involved in the development of the heart's scar tissue in heart attack patients, said the study, which was published in the journal Hepatology in August.Slide 5 of 19
Arctic Ground SquirrelsSlide 6 of 19
Arctic Ground Squirrels
The Arctic ground squirrel (Spermophilus parryii) is helping scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks unlock the benefits of hibernation for humans. The researchers found that the "hibernation switch" in the ground squirrels is a receptor on brain cells for the neurotransmitter adenosine, which promotes sleep.
Adenosine is also found in humans, and helps get us ready for bedtime. Researchers took the squirrels out of hibernation by blocking the production of adenosine using a chemical called cyclopentyltheophylline, then put the squirrels back into hibernation by using a chemical called cyclohexyladenosine.
The squirrel research led the scientists to conclude that if they could similarly control adenosine in humans, they could use it to reduce a patient's heart rate and blood flow.
Heart attack and stroke victims can develop brain damage if their brains are starved of oxygen, but by blipping these patients into a hibernation-like state, doctors could buy more time during surgery, saving lives in the process, the researchers said.Slide 7 of 19
Deathstalker ScorpionsSlide 8 of 19