Scientists in Australia have made a significant if somewhat strange breakthrough in the development of non-addictive, but equally effective, alternative painkillers to opioids… by using spider venom.
Dr Christina Schroeder and her team of researchers at the University of Queensland have created novel tarantula mini-proteins by using the venom of a Chinese bird spider, "considered extremely aggressive and highly venomous."
The mini protein, called Huwentoxin-IV, binds to pain receptors in the body and has been engineered for greater potency and targeting of specific pain receptors.
The experimental new pain-relief drug has thus far proven highly effective in trials on mice and could one day lead to the development of alternatives to morphine-like drugs, such as fentanyl and oxycodone, which have plagued countries like the US throughout the global opioid crisis.
The White House previously described the opioid epidemic as “the worst drug crisis in US history” and, in 2018 alone, opioids were involved in 46,802 overdose deaths
"Although opioids are effective in producing pain relief, they come with unwanted side-effects like nausea, constipation and the risk of addiction, placing a huge burden on society," Dr Schroeder said.
The team’s spider-venom alternative incorporates the mini-protein, its receptor and the surrounding membrane from the spider venom, and is proving so potent that very little of it is required to produce pain relief effects.
While the drug is far from clinical trials, it shows early promise for one of the darkest and most daunting plagues currently facing humanity in the 21st century. Encouraging breakthroughs in up-and-coming technologies, such as cryogenic electron microscopy, also promise to help the spider venom become an effective alternative to opioids.