Snakes May Hold The Secret Ingredient to Killing Pain
A protein in spider venom may be the gateway to developing a class of cutting-edge painkillers. Researchers have discovered that spider venom is made up of molecules that can interfere with proteins that transfer pain signals between the nerves and the brain.
In humans, the pathway that is critical to transmitting pain is activated by a protein called Nav1.7. The proteins that spiders are capable of producing in their venom blocks this channel, and are apparently available in a variety of species of spiders. Scientists are working on understanding which of the many spiders produce the most potent and biologically stable protein.
Worldwide, there are 45,000 known species of spider, and only about .01% of these have been tested as a possible source for compounds that would block Nav1.7. Researchers are gathering data on which types of spiders carry the type of compound that will block Nav1.7 by screening over 200 species of spiders.
The potential for treatment is vast, as current painkillers have limited efficacy, are sometimes addictive, and wear off relatively quickly. Drugs developed from spider venom would block pain at its source, preventing the nerve signals from reaching the brain.