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Opioid Substitute: Snail Venom as an Alternative Painkiller

Feb 23, 2017 10:25 AM EST

The United States is currently facing an opioid crisis. New York Times reported that the painkiller, which was falsely advertised as safe since the mid-19900s, has killed more than 33,000 people in 2015.

Researchers have been conducting experiments to look for an alternative and win the battle against the deadly drug. Recently, scientists at the University of Utah have come across a finding which indicated that the venom of Conus regius, a tiny marine snail species could be an alternative to the highly addictive opioid.

Naturally, this snail species uses its venom to paralyze its prey by preventing its brain from sending signals to its muscles.

Based on the previous tests that they did on rodents, a compound in the venom, which they identified as Rg1A have the ability to block the pain pathway.

However, they wanted to know if it would do the same in human pain pathway receptor. IB Times noted that to find out, they synthetically engineered 20 analogs of the natural compound RgIA. Of the 20, they found out that RgIA4 appeared to bind tightly with the human version of this pain receptor. 

To see if it is effective in relieving pain, they administered it to rodents who have gone through chemotherapy drug which causes extreme skin sensitivity. Results showed that after the injection, the rodents did not feel the pain.

The researchers also found out that the compound's effect lasts for 72 hours after the injection.

 "Once chronic pain has developed, it is difficult to treat," said J. Michael McIntosh, professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah Health Sciences in a statement. "This compound offers a potential new pathway to prevent chronic pain from developing in the first place and also offers a new therapy to patients with established pain who have run out of options."

Though it lasts longer, it also appears that RgIA4 binds with completely different receptors other than the one distinct with opioids. This implies that it would not be addictive.

Results of the study are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Meanwhile it is worth noting that while the compound has shown some promising results, it is still in the early days of testing and more trials are needed before it could be approved for use in humans.

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