Creepy crawly centipedes are a source of new high-strength painkillers

8 November 2013 by Stephanie Swift, posted in Analgesics, Bioengineering, Disease, Science

I'm dreading the day I get knocked up, since I know that my incredibly low pain threshold will have trouble dealing with the crazy horror that is childbirth.

That’s why I was overjoyed to hear of some new research from Australia, where a new high-strength painkiller has been isolated from the venom of the Chinese red-headed centipede, Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans.

In the insect world, centipedes are king of the hill – their venom is debilitating to their prey, helping them to capture fish, lizards, frogs and even small mammals.

Centipede venom is made up of a complex cocktail of proteins, each designed to disengage a particular biological pathway. Researchers isolated one of these proteins, µ-SLPTX-Ssm6a, and found that it blocked a specific pain receptor known as the voltage-gated sodium channel, Nav1.7.

For several types of chemical-, temperature- or acid-based pain, µ-SLPTX-Ssm6a provided better pain relief than the current gold standard, morphine. Happily, no side effects were observed.

So, µ-SLPTX-Ssm6a is a great new drug candidate for human pain relief. And since other beastie-derived venom proteins are already in clinical use – like PRIALT from the marine cone snail – µ-SLPTX-Ssm6a could make it to market before I find me a baby daddy.

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