cone snail
Certain substances derived from cone snail venom can be used to treat chronic nerve pain, researchers reveal. Richard Ling/Wikimedia CommonsRichard Ling/Wikimedia Commons

Researchers reveal that certain substances derived from cone snail venom can be used to treat chronic nerve pain. The substances, created from a small protein found in the marine animal, is said to be more effective than morphine and causes fewer side effects than the latter.  

Researchers hope that their findings would help to improve treatments that are currently available for chronic nerve pain, leading to the development of an oral pain killer one day. "This is an important incremental step that could serve as the blueprint for the development of a whole new class of drugs capable of relieving one of the most severe forms of chronic pain that is currently very difficult to treat," Dr David Craik, who led the study, said in a news release.

Craik and colleagues have based their findings on conotoxins, the small proteins contained in cone snail venom that have long been known for its pain relieving properties. Though ziconotide, the only drug created from conotoxins is available to treat pain, it is less used as it involves an invasive method of infusing the drug directly into the spinal cord.

During their experiments, researchers modified conotoxin peptides to form into circular chains of amino acids and fed the prototype drug to a group of rats. The experimental drugs helped to reduce pain in the animals and were 100 times more effective than morphine or gabapentin. The drug did not cause any addiction like the other two drugs.

"We don't know about the side effects yet, as it hasn't been tested in humans. But we think it would be safe," Craik said. "It acts by a completely different mechanism than morphine, so we think it has a minimal possibility of producing the side effects of that medication. That is one of the big advantages of this drug."

Neuropathic pain involves damage of the nervous system and is very difficult to treat. The condition can be triggered by chronic diseases like diabetes and can make one suffer for many years. Researchers said that treatments currently available for this condition has only been successful in solving one in three cases and involves serious side effects.

The study will be presented at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).