Venomous insects are much more than just scary four- or eight-legged creatures. They can prove very useful in the world of medicinal remedies, as a study from the University of Queensland (UQ) in Australia has just demonstrated.
The team of researchers from UQ has discovered that the molecules from tarantulas' venom have chronic pain-relieving properties without any adverse side-effects.
The study was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Tarantula's don't have to be scary
The researchers from UQ developed a novel mini-protein from tarantula venom that will potentially be able to relieve chronic pain. Dr. Christina Schroeder of UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience acknowledged that the current use of opioids around the world is in need of urgent alternatives.
Such opioids are used relatively regularly, such as morphine and morphine-like drugs, fentanyl and oxycodone, amongst others.
"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.
"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."
Schroeder continued by explaining "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."
So far, the protein has worked successfully on mice models.
Schroeder believes that "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."