Could tarantulas keep the secret to relieving chronic pain? Researchers think so


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With $ 1.5 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, researchers at the University of California, Davis, are studying whether the widely feared tarantula spider venom could help relieve chronic pain.

“Spiders and scorpions have millions of years of evolution optimizing the poisons of peptides, proteins, and small molecules in their venom, which we can take advantage of,” said Bruce Hammock, a distinguished entomology professor who works at the us reliever. “The same poisons that can cause pain and neurological dysfunction can also help nerves function better and reduce pain.”

Hammock has decades of experience in developing a new approach to relief . Its Davis-based EicOsis received a Fast Track designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the development of an oral candidate for drugs, EC5026, that prevents the breakdown of body compounds that prevent people from they feel pain disproportionately from their injury.

In total, 20 researchers are studying the potential of the venom of a particular spider, the Peruvian green velvet tarantula, to prevent pain signals from being transmitted between nerves and muscles. The venom of this spider has a particular peptide associated with a specific channel that transmits pain, the Nav1.7 channel.

The challenge for the researchers will be to get the tarantula venom protein to block Nav1.7 channels only in the sensory nerves without affecting the Nav1.7 channels in the body’s muscles or brain. It was said that it is about modifying the toxin to avoid unwanted side effects.

The hope is to find a pain treatment as potent as opioids, but without the addictive properties of these drugs.

“For severe pain, drugs like ibuprofen or aspirin are not strong enough,” said Heike Wulff, a professor of pharmacology. “Opioids are strong enough, but they have the problem of developing tolerance and addiction.”

Wulff and Vladimir Yarov-Yarovoy, professor of membrane physiology and biology, lead the team trying to develop the new treatment.

Researchers described his preliminary work as promising, but noted that much more work remains. They have used the Rosetta computer program developed by the University of Washington to create numerous iterations of the tarantula peptide, allowing their team to synthesize and test them in the lab.

“Using Rosetta software, we can take a natural peptide and then redesign it and turn it into a therapeutic,” said Yarov-Yarovoy, an expert in computational structural modeling of peptide toxins. “Our lead peptides are already showing efficacy at the morphine level, but without the side effects of opioids.”

Hammock said “no scientist could have any hope of tackling such a tough project,” and praised Yarov-Yarovoy for bringing together an interdisciplinary team that can feed each other and tackle complex puzzles.

Potential therapeutic candidates will need to be tested in animals to ensure they are safe and effective for testing in humans, the researchers said, so it will be at least five years before any medication is ready.

Pain medications have a wide potential market. Davis researchers point out that approximately 50 million adults in the United States are affected by chronic pain. Some 11 million people experience high-impact chronic pain that lasts three months or more and restricts significant activities such as the ability to work outside the home or do chores at home.

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