Spider venom holds key to addiction-free pain killers

15 April 2020

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Molecules in tarantula venom could be used as an alternative to opioid pain killers for people seeking chronic pain relief.

Institute for Molecular Bioscence researchers have designed a new tarantula venom mini-protein that can potentially relieve severe pain without addiction.

Dr Christina Schroeder said the current opioid crisis around the world meant urgent alternatives to morphine and morphine-like drugs, such as fentanyl and oxycodone, were desperately needed.

“Although opioids are effective in producing pain relief, they come with unwanted side-effects like nausea, constipation and the risk of addiction, placing a huge burden on society,” Dr Schroeder said.

A species of tarantula has been found to have a venom that inhibits pain.

“Our study found that a mini-protein in tarantula venom from the Chinese bird spider, known as Huwentoxin-IV, binds to pain receptors in the body.

“By using a three-pronged approach in our drug design that incorporates the mini-protein, its receptor and the surrounding membrane from the spider venom, we’ve altered this mini-protein resulting in greater potency and specificity for specific pain receptors.

“This ensures that just the right amount of the mini-protein attaches itself to the receptor and the cell membrane surrounding the pain receptors.”

Dr Schroeder said the mini-protein had been tested in mouse models and shown to work effectively.

“Our findings could potentially lead to an alternative method of treating pain without the side-effects and reduce many individuals’ reliance on opioids for pain relief,” she said. 

This study was published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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