University of Queensland biochemist Glenn King and colleagues spent “hours” milking venom from the legs of Chinese red-headed centipedes looking for compounds that could form the basis for new drugs. One of them was given to mice, who were then subjected to pain from various sources. Not only did the compound provide pain relief similar to that experienced by opioids such as morphine, it did so without side effects and without triggering the body mechanisms that could lead to addiction. Details of the team’s research were published last month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
What’s the Big Idea?
The Chinese red-headed centipede is yet another in a long list of animals and insects whose venom has been studied for more effective and safer alternatives to opioids such as morphine. These can decrease in effectiveness over time, requiring larger doses, and for some kinds of pain they don’t work well at all. Plus, they can deliver a potentially addictive high. The discovered compound seemed to block a specific cell channel designed to deliver pain messages to the brain. King and his colleagues are now researching other venom compounds to see if they’ll do the same thing.
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