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Can a marine snail’s venom replace opioids?

The opioid overdose epidemic has worsened over the last decade in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC), Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), published on Jan. 1, 2016, since 2000, the U.S. has witnessed a 137 percent increase in drug overdose deaths and a 200 percent increase in the rate of overdose deaths that involved opioids. There is an urgent need to take action in preventing opioid abuse, dependence and death, and improve treatment capacity for opioid use disorders. While health care specialists have emphasized on expanding access to naloxone, increasing access to medication-assisted treatment and various behavioral therapies, a lot of them are looking at various alternative ways in addressing the opioid crisis.

One such alternative that can help in relieving pain and serve as an alternative to opioids has been found in a tiny snail’s venom, Conus Regius, a small marine cone snail commonly found in the Caribbean Sea. According to a research done by the scientists at the University of Utah, a compound found in the snail, Rg1A, can be helpful in blocking pain by targeting a pathway not associated with opioids.

The researchers found that this compound isolated from the snail’s venom acts on a pain pathway that is different from the pathway targeted by opioid pain medications. Using rodent models, the researchers showed that a9a10 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChR) functioned as a pain pathway receptor and Rg1A was effective in blocking this receptor. To test the compound’s capacity to relieve pain, the scientists administered the compound to rodents exposed to a chemotherapy drug causing extreme cold sensitivity and hypersensitivity to touch. It was observed that rodents that were given the compound and those that were genetically altered to lack the pain pathway receptor did not experience pain while those left untreated experienced pain. To confirm the efficacy of the treatment in humans, the scientists developed RgIA4 with a slightly different configuration with a high potency for humans.

The research findings were reported online on Feb. 20, 2017 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Compound RgIA4: A new and effective alternative to opioids

While cases of chronic pain continue to rise among American adults, the health care professionals are left with no choice but to either prescribe opioids or combine treatment with therapy. According to J. Michael McIntosh, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah Health Sciences, the compound that has been discovered offers a new pathway to prevent moderate to severe pain and as a therapy for patients who have run out of opioids.

While the compound works through the body in four hours, the beneficial effects of the compound linger for 72 hours post the injection. Since RgIA4 works by a completely different pathway, it may help in reducing the burden of opioid use. Post the research, scientists concluded that the pathway that the new compound works at adds to a small number of non-opioid-based pathways that could be further developed to treat chronic pain in humans. Even though the study showed promising results, the researchers aim to continue to the next step of pre-clinical testing to examine the safety and effectiveness of the new therapy.

Road to recovery

Opioids help relieve painful symptoms but their regular use can be highly addictive. As per CDC’s 2016 report, overdose deaths resulting from prescription opioids have increased four times since 1999 and is involved in half of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. today.

If you know someone who is addicted to any drugs including opioids, it is time to seek professional treatment and begin the path towards recovery. At the 24/7 Recovery Helpline, the experts can help you find the best drug addiction treatment centers in the U.S that offer holistic services based on the condition. You can call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-441-4405 or chat online with our counselors to know about the top drug rehab centers near you.

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