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Along came a spider: Spider venom could be the basis for a non-addictive pain blocker

spiderI like reading and writing so all of the spiders in my house are exceptionally well-read. I think. They're all buried under a pile of books so it's hard to tell.

But now I feel a sharp twinge of remorse for flattening so many of my eight-legged housemates after reading this story on the Eek Squad blog. Spider venom, as the blog explains, may provide humans and their companion animals with a non-addicitve way to block pain.

From the blog:

Pain usually means something is wrong, but for people suffering from chronic pain — like from arthritis, cancer or other illnesses — powerful pain blockers are the only thing that help.


While most pain relief drugs take a shotgun approach, venom-based molecules can zero in on a single channel or enzyme. Though this evolved for the more nefarious purpose of subduing and paralyzing prey, it could also stop pain in its tracks. Researchers are still trying to figure out how to tweak spider venoms to avoid affecting heart function and other muscles, however.

The benefits of spider venom extend beyond pain relief in people. Dr Maggie Hardy at the University of Queensland in Australia is working on spider venom-based treatments for your pets, too.

Researchers, such as Greg Holland, PhD, of Arizona State University, are also making headway by studying the molecular structure of spider venom. “Structure directly relates to how something functions, so in order to understand its function, you have to solve its structure," Holland explained in this Inside Science TV story.

At this point, spider venom-based pain blockers are not yet available for humans or their pets.

Holly MacCormick is a writing intern in the medical school’s Office of Communication & Public Affairs. She is a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at University of California-Santa Cruz.

Previously: Another big step toward building a better aspirin tabletRetraining the brain to stop the painA physician’s personal odyssey with chronic painFibromyalgia – living with a controversial chronic diseaseVexing venom delivered on the web, and Exploring the mystery of pain
Photo by cheetah 100

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