People faced with the daily inconveniences of living with chronic pain and limited mobility have few viable options for relief. Medications currently on the market are not always helpful at reducing pain levels, but bring on a list of unwanted side effects. Researchers have found a new substance that may help reduce chronic pain – snail venom.
Cone snails are small, deadly marine animals. They are identifiable by their often colorful and spotted shells. They used their venom to paralyze their prey. Once they smell their prey close by, they send out a barb filled with venom that stops the prey dead in its tracks and allows the notably slow creature to devour it. Though the venom of a smaller snail can be compared to that of a bee sting, the toxic venom from a larger snail can be fatal, even to humans. The predatory creatures generally prey on worms and fish. In the venom, however, are small proteins that are known as conotoxins. These proteins can be used to increase movement while providing pain relief in people who suffer from chronic pain.
Current treatment methods for chronic pain come with a host of side effects. Morphine, for example, can cause low blood pressure, fainting, vomiting, muscle stiffness, seizures and kidney problems, just to name a few. Some prescription drugs that are used for pain relief, known as narcotics, are habit-forming. It is important to consider too that they only work on one-third of patients who rely on them.
While one pain medication using snail venom is already on the market, called ziconotide, it is only in the form of a spinal injection. Researchers involved with the study hope that increasing awareness of the potential pain relief from snail venom and further testing it will bring progress in making the pain reliever more readily available in the form of orals drugs.
The study was led by David Craik, Ph.D. from the University of Queensland, in Australia. He is presenting the findings of the study this week at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Dallas, TX.
The details of their research was published in Chemistry for Life on March 16. the team has developed five new substances using the snail venom, which they are using in animal testing. Their study of lab rats found a significant reduction in pain when they administered an oral dose of a drug prototype with the protein from snail venom. They report that it is “100 times more potent than morphine or gabapentin.”
Craik said that even though they have not yet tested drugs containing snail venom on humans, they believe it will be safe. He said that the advantage of using drugs with the venom is the minimal side effects. He explains that “it acts like a completely different mechanism than morphine.” It works off of different brain receptors, according to their research.
Further research could lead to the development of a group of drugs designed to ease the pain associated with cancer, fibromyalgia, arthritis, AIDS and other painful diseases and conditions. Craik and his team of researchers are awaiting approval and funds in order to conduct human studies using snail venom for pain relief.
By Tracy Rose