Tarantula venom finds use in non-opioid pain relief drug

Opioid pain relievers not only produce potential side effects such as nausea and constipation, but they can also be highly addictive. Australian scientists have therefore created what could be a better medication, that is made using tarantula venom.

The experimental new pain-relief drug is being developed by a team at the University of Queensland, led by Dr. Christina Schroeder.

It incorporates a mini-protein called Huwentoxin-IV, which is found in the venom of a type of tarantula known as the Chinese bird spider (Haplopelma schmidti). Native to southern China and Vietnam, the arachnid is “considered extremely aggressive and highly venomous.”

The researchers altered the protein, enhancing its already-existing ability to bind with specific pain receptors in the body, thus blocking the perception of pain. Because the resulting drug is so potent and precisely-targeted, relatively little of it is required, minimizing any potential side effects.

Additionally, tests performed on lab mice indicate that the medication is unlikely to be addictive, yet it’s still proven to be effective at relieving pain.

A paper on the research was recently published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

And this isn’t the first time that University of Queensland scientists have explored the therapeutic use of spider venom. In 2017, a team led by Prof. Glenn King determined that a peptide in Australian funnel-web spider venom reduced the brain damage caused by strokes.

Source: University of Queensland

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