Creepy Crawly Pain Killer

By Alice Orszulok

The venom of these arthropods could be used to develop powerful medicine against pain, which could potentially be as effective as morphine.

We’re often unnerved by the creepy crawlies we find in our house and around our gardens, but perhaps we’re not giving these creatures enough credit. Arthropods and their products have been used in medicine throughout the world for hundreds of years.  For instance, honey has been used for healing wounds and burns, bee venom has been used in acupuncture and to treat multiple sclerosis, and even the maggots from blow flies being used to eat dead tissue, and therefore cleaning potentially lethal wounds—a process that is still occasionally used today.

This particular creepy crawly—the Chinese red-headed centipede (Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans)—has a special protein in its venom which blocks the Nav1.7 channel in pain-sensing nerves. The researchers believe the centipedes evolved the molecule to block nerve channels in insects they prey on.

“Venomous arthropod predators, like centipedes, scorpions, and spiders, worked out a couple of hundred million years ago that the best way to kill an insect is to target their nervous system,” professor Glenn King, from University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience in a statement.

When properly purified, the arthropod’s venom was more powerful in stopping pain in mice than morphine and appeared to have no physiological side effects such as changes in heart rate or blood pressure. That makes the colourful centipede’s venom more promising as a painkiller than certain spider venoms, which operate on the same mechanism but which also affects heart function, muscles and nerves in ways that made the venoms fatal to rats.

One in five Australians suffer from chronic pain according to the ABC. It is extremely difficult to treat, partly because of the side effects and addictive qualities of the available pain relievers. Researchers are hoping that by utlising the Nav1.7 blocker protein they will be able to develop a painkiller that will effectively prevent the generation of pain signals from tissue, while not affecting any other nerve functions.

“People without a functioning Nav1.7 channel cannot feel pain, so it’s likely molecules that can block this channel will be powerful painkillers,” professor King explained.

Although being born without the ability to feel pain may seem great at first, it comes with some huge issues. For instance, you may not be aware of when you’ve hurt yourself or broken a bone, and may injure yourself even more by accidentally ignoring it. You can read more about this condition here.

Source [The University of Queensland]

Keyword [Arthropod]

An arthropod refers to an invertebrate animal which has an exoskeleton (external skeleton), a segmented body and jointed appendages. They are members of the phylum Arthropoda and include insects, arachnids, crustaceans and others. They are usually characterised by their jointed limbs and cuticles, which are mainly made of chitin.