Painkiller from sea snail venom
A new painkiller is 100 times more potent than other painkillers, tests on rats have revealed.
The pill contains a group of chemicals called conotoxin peptides that are found in sea snail venom. The venom is used to immobilise the snail’s prey but in mammals has been shown to have pain-relieving effects.
To date, the only conotoxin-derived medicine, ziconotide, was ineffective if administered orally as enzymes in the saliva and gut were able to break it down. Therefore it could only be administered by a pump surgically inserted into the abdominal wall – meaning treatment was invasive and expensive.
This prompted researchers to develop a synthetic conotoxin, a circular peptide that could not be degraded as easily and could be given orally. The team tested its effect on rats in paw pressure tests. Conotoxin was judged to be 100 times more potent than gabapentin (another pain killer). Scientists believe the new pill is a more viable option and hope it will also relieve neuropathic pain – a problem stemming from nerve signals.