While many patients grow tolerant of opiates, and requiring higher doses over time and the drugs often cause side effects such as nausea, constipation and drug dependency, “it’s important to try to develop new drugs that can have complementary or different types of action.”
Richard Lewis, who studies venom therapeutics at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, says that “there’s been very few new drugs to come out to treat pain in the last 10–15 years, and very few new modes of action,” he adds.
Snake proteins are a good alternatives to opiate drugs such as morphine. One Venom-based painkiller is already available commercially: Prialt (ziconotide), which mimics the venom of the cone snail (Conus magus). Venom proteins from sea anemones, spiders and scorpions have also been found with potential biomedical uses.
Eric Lingueglia, and his colleagues from Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology in Valbonne, France, have recently identified the proteins from the black mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis) after testing about 50 different animal venoms.
The results are published by Diochot, S. et al. in Nature
Snake proteins – called mambalgins – bind and inhibit molecules in the family of acid-sensing ion channels, or ASICs. The ion channels form pores in the membranes of neurons and have been implicated in pain transmission.
Researchers hope that mambalgins or related molecules will become clinically viable.
“It’s nice they’ve gone the extra mile to show that the side effects there are with opiates like morphine aren’t there,” says Laura Bohn, a pharmacologist at the Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter, Florida.
David Julius, a physiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, has studied other snake-venom proteins that activate ASICs. He says that snakes are a valuable source of new molecules for experimenting on the channels. “These venom sacs are basically evolving combinatorial peptide libraries. There’s some stuff in there that the animal can use,” says Julius, and some “that just turns out to be useful for us”.
- Could Black Mamba Snake Venom Replace Morphine? (news.nationalgeographic.com)
- Deadly snake venom delivers pain relief (nature.com)
- Black mamba bite packs potent painkiller (sciencenews.org)
- Snake Venom Contains Potent Painkiller (scientificamerican.com)
- Mamba painkiller ‘beats morphine’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Possible Morphine Alternative Found In Black Mamba Venom (bigthink.com)
- Black mamba venom may be powerful painkiller (cbsnews.com)
- Black mamba venom makes a great painkiller : Equal to morphine without effecting opioid receptors (engineeringevil.com)
- Super-Toxic Snake Venom Could Yield New Painkillers (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- Snake Venom Contains Painkiller “More Effective” Than Morphine (medicaldaily.com)