Arachnid pain relief
Tarantulas and funnel web spiders stir feelings of fear and dread in many people who cross their paths, but those who suffer the debilitating effects of chronic pain may soon be welcoming them into their lives.
UQ PhD student Julie Klint said the unique nature of spider venom allowed researchers to target the source of chronic pain with greater accuracy than conventional medicines.
Ms Klint, who studies under the guidance of Professor Glenn King at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Biosciences, said their approach was innovative.
“We isolate peptides (molecules formed from amino acids) from spiders and then study their effects on specific pain targets, which in our case are sodium channels,” Ms Klint said.
“Sodium channels are part of our pain pathway that, like a gate, opens up and allows ions to pass through. That is what generates a pain signal in the body.
“If we can block the gate, then we can block the pain signal, and that is what we are aiming to do with the peptides from the spider venom.”
The inspiration for the team’s research came from studies of a family in Pakistan who traveled the country performing dangerous tricks due to their inability to feel any pain.
“Researchers found just one mutation within their nervous system, and it stopped one sodium channel from functioning. The family was otherwise healthy, and this was the rationale behind what we are doing,” Ms Klint said.
As with most research, there are important issues to overcome before a breakthrough can be achieved.
“Out of the nine sodium channels spread throughout our bodies, we are trying to hit just one of them,” Ms Klint said.
“That is where the spider peptides are unique as they are very good at hitting the specific channel we are aiming for. Most chronic pain relief drugs don’t have the ability to distinguish between those channels, but spider peptides do.”
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