Centipede venom may lead to new painkillers

Updated: Oct 02, 2013, 22:44 PM IST

Melbourne: Scientists have identified a molecule in centipede venom which can be used to develop powerful painkillers that are as effective as morphine.

Researchers from The University of Queensland and the Chinese Academy of Sciences studied the venom of the Chinese red-headed centipede.

Professor Glenn King, from UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience, said the molecule they found blocked the Nav1.7 channel in pain-sensing nerves.

"People without a functioning Nav1.7 channel cannot feel pain, so it's likely molecules that can block this channel will be powerful painkillers," King said.

"We recently demonstrated that the venom of the Chinese red-headed centipede was rich in molecules that can alter the function of nerve channels, so we decided to explore this venom to see if there was a molecule that could block Nav1.7," King added.

"The molecule we found selectively targets this pain channel, which is crucial as closely related channels play critical roles in controlling the heart and muscles," King said.

King said it was likely that centipedes had evolved the molecule to block similar nerve channels in insects in order to prey on them.

"There are a number of FDA-approved drugs derived from venom components currently on the market, with several more in clinical trials or various stages of preclinical development," King said.

"Our study suggests that centipede venoms, which to date have been largely unstudied, might provide a new source of potential drugs for treating chronic pain and other conditions," King added.