In a pathbreaking effort, Australian and Chinese researchers have successfully isolated a molecule in centipede venom that reportedly has the potential and potency to be developed into a painkiller as powerful as morphine.
The findings were published this week in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Xinhua reported.
Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) examined the venom of the Chinese red-headed centipede as part of a wider commitment to finding practical and lasting solutions for the 20 percent of the Australian population who suffer from chronic pain.
Glenn King, a professor of UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), told Xinhua the molecule discovered in partnership with UQ's Chinese collaborators blocked the 'Nav1.7' channel inherent in human 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.
The research is a continuation of King's work in molecular exploration, including last month's discovery of a natural component of Australian tarantula venom more potent than many existing chemical insecticides.
Unglamorously coined 'OAIP-1', King predicted it could be developed into an environmentally friendly insecticide.
King is also involved in research that could lead to the development of an environmentally friendly insecticide, harnessing toxin from Australian tarantula venom.
"There is an urgent need for new insecticides due to insects becoming resistant to existing products and others being deregistered due to perceived ecological and human health risks," King had said last month.
"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," he said after the new finding.
"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 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 (Federal Drug Administration)-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 venom, which to date have been largely unstudied, might provide a new source of potential drugs for treating chronic pain and other conditions."