Painkillers these days are great in that they give people much needed relief but they are also dangerous because they can easily become addictive. What if there was a new drug on the market that did not have such severe dependency issues? Australia is a land full of scary and dangerous creatures but scientists there are trying to use the venom from one of their habitants to try and do some good. They are looking at spider venom to try and develop a new kind of painkiller. One which might have a lower potential for abuse than common painkillers on the market today. Writing this article and looking at so many up close and personal images of spiders gave me the willies but I will persevere for the sake of our readers.
Venom is not something you might think of as being beneficial, to those who aren’t the ones administering it at least. Spider venom stuns prey or even kills it but researchers at the University of Queensland think that they have isolated some peptides in venom that can block the pain pathways. After studying 205 spiders they found 40 percent whose venom blocked pain channels. They identified a peptide from a Borneo orange-fringed tarantula (again, cringing at the writer’s desk right now) that they think might be a useful painkiller since it’s got the right structure and stability.
Scientists are also excited because venom blocks pain differently than opiates do. Opiates are addicting because they latch onto different opioid receptors on certain cells in the brain and release dopamine chemicals which makes people feel good all over so they crave more of the drug. The researchers found that the venom only blocks a certain channel to the brain that transmits pain so the euphoric effect may not be as widespread as with other opiates, possibly meaning people will not be as dependent on them.
Scientists all over the world are turning to venom-bearing animals, like snakes and anemones, to test possible pain relievers for patients with autoimmune disorders or psoriasis. It’s all definitely in the early stages but could be a groundbreaking new way to treat pain.