Centipedes, which are formidable predators in the insect world, are also kind killers. The venom of a Chinese red-headed centipede, for instance, paralyzes their prey by blocking a sodium-ion channel, which leaves humans “indifferent to all types of pain,” researchers report in a new study. And, given that pain-blocking property, a compound derived from the venom could trump morphine as the pain killer of the future.
Researchers isolated the key centipede venom peptide and administered it to mice. The rodents were subjected to several pain tests: thermal, acid and chemical. The venom performed similarly to morphine for the thermal and acid-induced tests, and had a stronger pain-blocking effect than morphine for the chemical one. The mice, ABC Science reports, suffered no side effects from the injections.
The current study focuses on a centipede that is farmed in China for consumption, but King and his colleagues believe the findings suggest centipede venom – which has been overlooked to date – may provide a source of lead molecules for drug development.
The researchers consider the centipede-human match a lucky one. Of the nine possible sodium ion channels the venom could have affected, they told ABC Science, it happened to correspond with just the right one for numbing pain. Moreover, past efforts to block that specific channel have failed because they also impacted other sodium channels central for muscle and heart functioning.
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