Those huge, scary, and furry spiders, namely tarantulas, carry venom that just may hold the key to the development of a safe and effective new painkiller, according to a new study. After all, the U.S. pain medication industry has millions of people addicted to their offerings, so this just might be a better alternative to those addictive prescriptions.
Yale University researchers, along with a team of scientists from Australia, have found that a specific protein, or peptide, in the venom of the Peruvian green velvet tarantula can block activity in the nerve cells that transmit pain.
The researchers say that the process, called toxineering, has the potential to search millions of different spider toxins for safe pain-killing drugs and therapies.
Dr. Michael Nitabach from Yale School of Medicine and his colleagues screened toxins from a variety of tarantula species to find one that blocked TRPA1, (the transient receptor potential cation channel,) on the surface of pain-sensing neurons that involve inflammation and neuropathic pain.
“The likelihood is that within the vast diversity of spider toxins we will find others that are active against other channels important for pain,” senior study author Nitabach said in a Yale news release.
“The beauty of the system is we can also screen engineered toxins not found in nature,” added Nitabach, an associate professor of cellular and molecular physiology and of genetics. By doing so, he said, they could identify more potent variations that would not harm essential nerve functions.
The study, published in the March 3rd issue of Current Biology, said that researchers analyzed more than 100 spider toxins from various tarantula species.
The researchers found that one tarantula toxin in particular blocked this pain channel but did not affect any other channels on the surface of nerve cells.
They say they plan to continue testing many thousands of new toxins that could produce similar pain-reducing effects, and find venom that blocks more than just one pain channel.
The world can only hope that they come up with safer and less addictive treatment for pain.
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