Sea Snail Venom – New Alternative To Opioid Painkillers
Opioid analgesics, also known as narcotic analgesics, are pain relievers that act on the central nervous system. Like all narcotics, they may become habit-forming if used over long periods.
A study published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates that it is the venom of tiny marine mollusks (Conus regius) that actually has such a wild therapeutic effect on the brain. This could provide an alternative to overused opioid medications.
Conus regius, common name the “crown cone”, is a species of sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Conidae, the cone snails and their allies.
Like all species within the genus Conus, these snails are predatory and venomous. They are capable of “stinging” humans, therefore live ones should be handled carefully or not at all.
A compound found in the venom of Conus Regius, has been discovered to block pain. It targets a different molecular pathway to that used by opioid painkillers.
The compound in the venom act as a long-lasting pain relief. When researched on rats, the researchers noticed that the venom lasted for more than 72 hours and was still present in the body of the rats.
J. Michael McIntosh, professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah Health Sciences, said: “What is particularly exciting about these results is the aspect of prevention.”
“Once chronic pain has developed, it is difficult to treat,” he said. “This compound offers a potential new pathway to prevent pain from developing in the first place and offer a new therapy to patients who have run out of options.”
Baldomero Olivera, professor in biology at the University of Utah, said that nature has evolved molecules that are extremely sophisticated and can have unexpected applications.
Interestingly, cone snail venom has also been found to be a possible source of insulin.
The Utah team isolated the compound from the venom Rg1A, which blocks a type of pain receptors in rodents known as a9a10 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR). The results give additional meaning to the relatively small number of non-opioid-based pathways. This could be the key to treating chronic pain with less risk of addiction to painkillers.