Researchers from the University of Utah may have discovered an opioid alternative. The venom of a tiny snail, the Conus regius, may be the answer. The venom has a compound called Rg1A that researchers isolated. The Rg1A targets the pain pathway. The findings were published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Opioids have reached a critical epidemic throughout the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists that prescription opioids quadrupled between 1999 to 2013. Deaths from the drug have only increased since then. Half a million people have died from opiates, and almost 100 people die each day from overdoses. Derived from opium, opioids relieve pain, but if overused, people can become addicted to them. Examples of opioids include morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl.
The Conus regius or crown cone is a type of sea snail. They are capable of harming other creatures through their venom. Found in the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and off the coast of Brazil, the crown cone can grow up to three inches long. The coloring of the crown cone varies from a chestnut-brown color with blue and white spots to markings with yellow, brown, or pale brown variations.
The researchers isolated the Rg1A compound from the rest of the venom. Using rodents, the researchers found that the compound blocked pain receptors. The pathway, according to a press release from the University of Utah, added to the “small number of nonopioid pathways that could be further developed to treat chronic pain.” Relief from the pain lasted longer than the compound that remained in the rodent’s system.
Rg1A worked through the rodent’s body within four hours, but the “effects lingered.” The compound was still working within the rodent 72 hours after the initial injection, suggesting that for some components of the nervous system, the compound could have a restorative effect.
J. Michael McIntosh, University of Utah Health Science professor of psychiatry said that it is difficult to treat chronic pain once it has developed. The Rg1A may be a new source of preventing the development of chronic pain. The team of researchers exposed rodents to a chemotherapy drug that caused an extreme cold sensitivity and touch hypersensitivity. Rodents who were given the compound did not experience pain. He and his team plan to continue their research to see if this could work with humans.
By Cheryl Werber
Photo by My Huynh