You’re not going to believe this bizarre new finding. French scientists say they may have found a painkiller as effective as morphine – minus the side-effects – in the deadly venom of the black mamba, one of the fastest and most dangerous snakes in Africa. The predator’s venom paralyzes and kills small animals with neurotoxins present in the venom, and testing on mice has shown a potent painkiller is also present. Isn’t nature weird?
The researchers studied venom from 50 species before they found pain-killing proteins called mambalgins in the mamba. According to their study published in the journal Nature, they are just as baffled as the rest of us as to why the snake would produce it.
Morphine is known for its pain-cutting abilities, but is also addictive and can have dangerous side effects such as vomiting, muscle twitching, headaches, and difficulty thinking. Mambalgins apparently kill pain through a different route in the brain, which produces less harmful side-effects.
According to Dr. Eric Lingueglia of the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology, pain works very similarly in mice and people, so his hopes are to create painkillers that are safe for humans to use. “It is the very first stage,” he said, “and it is difficult to tell if it will be a painkiller in humans or not. A lot more work still needs to be done in animals.”
Don’t expect to get pills of snake venom or a prescriptions for it soon. Dr. Roger Knaggs of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society says the mambalgins will work by injecting it into the spine, so “significant development” is needed before this could be used in people.
Getting something injected into my spine sounds about as terrifying as getting bitten by a snake, but if it turns out to be a better alternative to morphine, it sounds like a leap in medical advancements. It will be interesting to see where this goes from here.