Sea snail venom a source of pain relief

Marine cone snails might be a weapon in the fight against the opioid epidemic, with an Australian researcher developing a new pain medication from its venom.

Australian scientists say they have edged closer to developing new pain relief medication from chemicals found in the venom of sea snails that live on the bottom of the ocean.

The news comes as countries search for alternatives to opioids, including codeine, amid concerns of widespread misuse and a lack of effective treatments for chronic pain.

The venom of the marine cone snail contains conotoxins, powerful chemicals that result in paralysis or death of its prey.

Research over the past 30 years has shown conotoxins can also provide long-lasting pain relief by blocking the pain signal through the nervous system.

A therapeutic form of conotoxins have already been developed but its use has been very limited because of its bad side-effects, which include hallucinations, memory loss and confusion.

However an new Australian study, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, has made a breakthrough in the research.

Chief investigator, Professor Macdonald Christie says they've discovered there is a range of conotoxins that appear to be less toxic and "much safer".

"There are literally thousands of these toxins in existence and so we are working on a number of different classes of conotoxins that are targeting different aspects of the nervous system," Prof Christie said.

Early indications also suggest they are more effective than opioids and cannabinoids, he said.

"In the pre-clinical models they are certainly more effective than cannabinoids," Prof Christie said.

Testing the safety of the prolonged use of this new group of conotoxins is now underway.

"We are at a point of pre-clinical testing of these molecules, what we're doing is just making sure that they are safe with prolonged use because our experiments so far have been short-term use. Having established that we would hope to be able to develop them," Prof Christie said.

"I am hopeful that conotoxins might be in clinical use in less than 10 years, provided further money is available for trials."

Prof Christie, a Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Sydney, will present the latest developments at the annual conference of the Australian Pain Society in Sydney on April 9.

Published 4 April 2018 at 3:28pm
Source: AAP