Venom from one of the world's slowest species could be used to develop a fast-acting oral pain reliever.
Chemists say they've created five new experimental substances using a tiny protein extracted from the venom of a cone snail.
One of the five substances, scientists hope, could -- with some fine-tuning -- become a remedy for chronic nerve pain, with pain-killing properties stronger than morphine, but with a diminished risk of dependency and fewer side effects.
“This is an important incremental step that could serve as the blueprint for the development of a whole new class of drugs capable of relieving one of the most severe forms of chronic pain that is currently very difficult to treat,” said study leader David Craik, Ph.D., of the University of Queensland, in Australia.
While the cone snail uses its venom to paralyze unsuspecting prey, peptides (or small proteins) found in the venom called conotoxins could help free up the movement of those debilitated by severe pain.
Craik is scheduled to present his finding to thousands of fellow scientists this week at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Dallas.
“We don’t know about side effects yet, as it hasn’t been tested in humans. But we think it would be safe,” Craik said in a press release. “It acts by a completely different mechanism than morphine so we think it has a minimal possibility of producing the side effects of that medication. That is one of the big advantages of this drug.”
Craik and his colleagues think the drug could be less addictive, since it works on different brain receptors than other oft-abused prescription meds.
One conotoxin-based pain medication already exists, but it has to be administered via direct injection to the lower spinal column -- an impractical method. That's why the researchers at Queensland are hopeful that their work will lead to a new oral medication.
[American Chemical Society]