Australian scientists from the University of Melbourne have developed a novel compound from a toxic marine snail that could be a new treatment option for sufferers of chronic pain. The compound extracted from a species of cone shell, a beautiful but often deadly type of mollusk found on the Great Barrier Reef, could hold the key to a new era of powerful drugs to treat chronic pain common in diseases such as arthritis, cancer, and AIDS.
In laboratory studies, the drug known as ACV1, is more powerful and longer lasting pain killer than morphine; however it is not addictive and lacks the side-effects of morphine, such as constipation and respiratory depression.
“We have advanced the research to a stage where we now seek a commercial partner to take this novel compound to human trials and develop it as a treatment for chronic pain,” says Associate Professor Bruce Livett, team leader and Reader in The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Melbourne. “More than 60 percent of the community will suffer from chronic pain sometime in their life… and the medical profession is crying out for alternative drug treatments.”
ACV1 blocks the transmission of pain along the peripheral nervous system – the nervous system that runs throughout our body and transmits the pain signal from injuries.
Cone shells are found in reefs around the world. They are the hunters of their realm, using a modified mouth-part to harpoon their prey and inject into them a paralyzing toxin. About 30 humans have died from their sting.
“Not all species will kill a human. The venom of some species obviously has useful properties. There are a number of research groups around the world, including ourselves, going through the exacting process of assaying venom components from each species to find those that may have useful pharmacological properties,” says Livett.
“Cone shells provide a largely untapped source of novel compounds that are being used to develop human pharmaceuticals for everything from pain to epilepsy,” he said.