Subscribe to health news headlines email updates.
TUESDAY, Feb. 25, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Tarantula venom may hold the key to the development of a safe and effective new painkiller, according to a new study.
Yale University researchers found that a specific protein in the venom of the Peruvian green velvet tarantula blocks activity in nerve cells that transmit pain. They say the process they used to identify this protein could also search for millions of different spider toxins and lead to the development of other new pain medications.
"The likelihood is that within the vast diversity of spider toxins we will find others that are active against other channels important for pain," senior study author Michael Nitabach said in a Yale news release.
"The beauty of the system is we can also screen engineered toxins not found in nature," added Nitabach, an associate professor of cellular and molecular physiology and of genetics. By doing so, he said, they could identify more potent variations that would not harm essential nerve functions.
For the study published in the March 3 issue of Current Biology, the researchers analyzed more than 100 spider toxins from various tarantula species. They tested these toxins on "TRPA1" -- one of 12 suspected human pain channels. Located on the surface of nerve cells that sense pain, this channel is associated with inflammation and nerve pain.
The researchers found the one tarantula toxin, in particular, that blocked this pain channel but did not affect any other channels on the surface of nerve cells.
They say they plan to continue testing many thousands of new toxins that could produce similar pain-reducing effects.
Visit the American Museum of Natural History to learn how various toxins may be used to develop new drugs and medical treatments.