Venom from these snails could provide solution for chronic pain relief

February 28, 2017, 8:01 a.m.
Conus regius
Photo: Nick Zantop/Wikipedia

Opioids are a powerful pain reliever, but they are also incredibly addictive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, more than any year on record. Nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid."

Those numbers are why researchers are working so hard to find alternative options — and they just might have found one in the tiny venomous sea snail, Conus regius.

PhysOrg reported on the work of University of Utah researchers who were looking to nature for solutions, specifically this snail's venom, which it uses to paralyze and kill its prey. When researchers isolated a specific compound, Rg1A, they found it blocks pain, but on a new pathway — one not associated with opioids — and it works for a long time.

The compound works its way through the body in 4 hours, but the scientists found the beneficial effects lingered.

"We found that the compound was still working 72 hours after the injection, still preventing pain," said J. Michael McIntosh, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah Health Sciences. The duration of the outcome may suggest that the snail compound has a restorative effect on some components of the nervous system.

The exciting research, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could be the next step in not only treating pain, but preventing it from occurring in the first place — and all thanks to this unassuming sea snail.