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Snake Venom Painkillers?

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 3, 2012 -- Snake venom painkillers may sound like a hard sell, but a new study suggests it may be the next big thing in pain relievers.

Researchers say certain compounds isolated from the venom of the deadly black mamba snake are actually potent painkillers.

In the study, these compounds produced pain relief as strong as morphine in mice, without the unwanted side effects associated with opioid pain relievers.

It's too early to say whether the same will hold true in humans.

But researchers say the results suggest the snake venom compounds relieve pain by targeting a different pain pathway in the brain. And that could eventually lead to a new generation of pain killers for people.

"It is essential to understand pain better to develop new analgesics," researcher Sylvie Diochot of the Institut de Pharmacologie Mole ´culaire et Cellulaire, in Valbonne, France, and colleagues write in Nature. The black mamba findings, she says, help with both of those goals.

The black mamba snake is Africa's longest venomous snake and grows up to 14 feet in length. Its aggressive nature and lethal venom has given it a reputation as the world's deadliest snake.

Pain Relief From Snake Venom

Previous studies have shown that compounds in snake venom can cause pain by activating what's called specific acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs).

In this study, researchers found that a newly discovered class of compounds in black mamba snake venom called mambalgins can relieve pain by targeting and blocking these channels.

Their experiments in mice show the mambalgins are not toxic and have fewer side effects than traditional pain killers like morphine.

Researchers say their results should lead to a better understanding of pain and introduce natural compounds that may lead to the development of new painkillers.

SOURCES:Diochot, S. Nature, published online Oct. 3, 2012.News release, Nature. National Geographic.

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