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Pain-Killing Snails

September 28, 2010

A compound from cone snail saliva may be an extremely efficient painkiller.


Pain-relieving snail spit…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Cone snails catch fish by injecting them with a powerful venom found in their saliva. Now scientists in Australia have developed a pain-blocking peptide from the venom that can be given orally. Peptides are small proteins, and University of Queensland chemist David Craik says the main hurdle was keeping the peptide from being digested. Since digestive enzymes target the ends of a peptide strand, Craik’s team fused the snail peptide’s ends together.

DAVID CRAIK (University of Queensland, Australia):
And if you join the ends in a peptide bond, then essentially you completely remove those termini, and so then you’ve got a peptide that’s impervious to a major class of enzymes.

When given to rats in pain, the altered peptide worked as well as the top prescription painkiller, gabapentin, but at only 1% the dose. The researchers hope to apply for human trials soon. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.