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New painkiller: Spider venom a new drug ingredient? Tarantula toxins now tested

Spider venom as a new painkiller? Yes, indeed, as health experts are saying that tarantula venom may be an essential ingredient in upcoming drugs that can serve as an effective — not to mention safe — painkiller for human patients. Fox News reports this Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, that a new testing study is revealing tarantula toxins are now being tested for a variety of medical uses, and specific proteins are found to have some very powerful health related qualities.

Spider venom used in new painkiller medicine
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Researchers from Yale University say this new painkiller utilizes spider venom gathered from the Peruvian green velvet tarantula. Medical studies have revealed that a particular protein with the tarantula’s potent venom is capable of blocking a majority of activity in nerve cells that are used to transmit feelings of pain from the cell to the brain. These health experts believe that they should be able to use the very same process to identify the painkilling protein within spider toxins to develop other breaking forms of pain medications.

“The likelihood is that within the vast diversity of spider toxins we will find others that are active against other channels important for pain," senior study author Michael Nitabach said in a tested Yale news release.

What seems particular powerful about this new painkiller is that it’s an adaptation of natural science into manmade engineering, capable of being manipulated into more powerful forms of painkillers. However, the public may need to be careful; a new painkiller called Zohydro is causing some serious debate over its potent and addictive capabilities.

"The beauty of the system is we can also screen engineered toxins not found in nature," added Nitabach, an associate professor of cellular and molecular physiology and of genetics. Health researchers could then identify even stronger spider toxin variations that would not harm essential nerve functions.

The tarantula venom study is being published this March 2014 in “Current Biology,” noting that over 100 spider secretions have been tested from a number of different species. These toxins are also being tested on the human pain channels to see their direct influence in being able to “block” pain — essentially, serving as the new painkillers of the future.

A particular venom found from the green velvet tarantula had a protein that was particularly successful in shielding the pain channel but failing to cause any serious harm to other parts of the cell, which is a good finding. New studies are underway, and experts believe it could lead to a powerful new branch of medicine.

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