Chronic pain relief: How marine snails may be able to help

More and more researchers are investigating natural solutions to chronic pain, in the midst of America’s opioid epidemic.

University of Utah researchers are looking to the ocean. Now, they've discovered that a compound in cone snail venom may do the trick.

“I’ve had a headache every day of my life since 2002,” Danielle Griffith said.

Chronic pain after a car crash forced Danielle to be home-bound.

"I hurt, I hurt, I hurt," she said. "It affects you not only physically but mentally, as well.”

University of Utah Professor Michael McIntosh and his team found that a compound that venom cone snails use to hunt targets pain pathways after a nerve injury.

“What we’ve discovered is a compound that, if you administer it at the time of injury of a nerve, not only helps to treat the pain but accelerates the functional recovery of that nerve," Dr. McIntosh said.

McIntosh said pain relief lasted for weeks in animals tests. His research shows the compound may reduce nerve injury that causes chronic pain. That’s good news for folks like Danielle, who took opioids for her pain.

“Yes, you may get the pain to be managed for a couple or few hours, but that’s it," she said. "It comes back

They know cone snails at Utah’s Loveland Living Planet Aquarium. They're not surprised a solution may come from the sea.

“It's important to save the ocean, not just for answers like this, but answers to questions we haven't even thought of asking yet,” Loveland Public Programs Manager Brent Beardsley said.

McIntosh said the many species of cone snail have thousands of compounds in their venom that could potentially treat disease.

McIntosh is hopeful that the compound he’s studying could keep acute pain from evolving into chronic pain, reducing the need for opioids. He is planning for human trials to begin in the next couple of years.

RESEARCH SUMMARY
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CONE SNAILS: The cone snail has a host of deadly adaptations, including a venomous harpoon which it uses to catch its prey. Cone snails are a group of marine snails that can be found in tropical seas and oceans around the world, but some live in more temperate habitats such as the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the waters around Southern California, or even the southern cape of South Africa. Their highly specialized teeth work like a combination of hypodermic needles and harpoons to skewer and poison its prey. The snail toxins target the nervous system, paralyzing its victims, which allow the snail to eat its meal at its own pace. The cone snail is rarely without its deadly harpoon teeth, as they are constantly regrowing.
(Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/most-venemous-animal-cone-snail-2016-2)

CHRONIC PAIN: Acute pain is a normal sensation that alerts someone to possible injury, while chronic is pain is very different and persists often for months or even longer. It may arise from an initial injury, or there may be an ongoing cause such as illness. Other problems that often accompany chronic pain are fatigue, sleep disturbance, decreased appetite, and mood changes. Chronic pain may limit a person’s movements, resulting in a reduction of their strength, stamina, and flexibility. Treatments for chronic pain include things such as acupuncture, electrical stimulation, medications, nerve blocks, or sometimes even surgery. Less invasive relaxation therapies, psychotherapy, biofeedback, and behavior modification may also be used to treat chronic pain. Self-management of chronic pain may also hold great promise as a treatment approach.
(Source: https://medlineplus.gov/magazine/issues/spring11/articles/spring11pg5-6.html)

NEW RESEARCH: University of Utah researchers are investigating natural solutions to treat chronic pain. They have discovered a compound in the venom of cone snails that may be the answer. This compound targets pain pathways after a nerve injury, and when administered to the nerve at the time of injury not only does it help treat the pain but it accelerates the functional recovery of that nerve. It has been animal- tested and results have shown pain relief lasted for weeks. Their research shows the compound may even reduce the nerve injury that causes chronic pain. The many pieces of cone snail have thousands of compounds in their venom that could potentially treat other diseases as well. The researchers are hopeful their studies could keep acute pain from evolving into chronic pain, thus reducing the need for opioids. The plan to move into human trials may begin in the next couple of years.
(Source: Michael McIntosh, MD)