Call it a new form of rapture of the deep. Chemicals from sea snail saliva can be made into pain pills that work as well as morphine, but without the risk of addiction, a new study says.
Researchers have already used the saliva of marine cone snails as a potent painkiller, but it has to be injected into the spinal cord with a special implanted pump, which limits its use. Researchers led by David J. Craik of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland in Australia figured out how to make the peptide orally active, so patients could simply pop snail-saliva pills.
Morphine is potent, effective and in many cases the only pleasant aspect accompanying a visit to the surgeon. But the opium from which it is derived is the base ingredient for heroin and a politically problematic cash crop in places like Afghanistan.
Scorpion venom and intense pain generally go hand in hand, but a group of researchers at Tel Aviv University are rethinking that relationship, using a better understanding of the peptide toxins found in scorpions' pain-inducing payloads to create a breed of non-addictive, side effect-free painkillers.
Medics still use morphine to relieve the pain of wounded soldiers on the modern battlefield, but have to watch out for morphine reducing breathing and blood pressure to dangerous levels. That may all change with a DARPA-backed combination drug that has successfully limited morphine delivery when it detects low blood oxygen levels.