Morphine is a very useful, necessary substance for providing pain relief to thousands of individuals across the world that are either hospitalized, or even suffering severe chronic pain in their homes. However, morphine is an opioid, much like an opiate, coming from the opium plant that heroin is also made from. Drugs like heroin and morphine block receptors key to feeling pain, and so while morphine certainly does the job, it can and generally does become addictive.
A peptide from the venom of a Chinese redheaded centipede (shown left) is meant to paralyze prey, but luckily humans have different voltage-gated sodium channels (or Nav's) than insects, the usual prey of these centipedes. This specific peptide (called Ssm6a) targets the Nav that the researchers are interested in, Nav1.7, which is critical for the electrical signaling pathway of pain. Using this peptide to interrupt the pathway could reduce if not eliminate pain. Since the peptide is not blocking receptors, researcher Glenn King from the University of Queensland says that he doubts addiction or even tolerance would become an issue.
Trials on mice have shown hope for the use of centipede venom for pain suppression in humans. Mice injected with Ssm6a showed equal or better response for pain suppression, and had no negative side effects. This could potentially help almost 20% of the total population, who experiences chronic pain, without the concern for such drastic addictions.
Posted by Steven Yu (6)