Research by Chinese scientists has led to the discovery of a chemical compound found in the venom of a centipede that may act as a super painkiller - without the side effects of morphine.
The discovery of the compound could lead to the military’s reduction of its reliance on morphine for battleground injuries. Professor Lai Ren, lead researcher in the study, stated that, “It is completely different from morphine. Morphine is only intended for emergency use. It has many side effects and can lead to addiction over the longer-term.”
Morphine has been the go-to drug in the military since the start of World War I. However, in addition to its addictive properties, it can cause a patient’s blood pressure to drop to a dangerous level. It can also stop a patient’s breathing in some cases.
Lai pointed out the main goal of their research was to develop a new painkiller for use long-term - without the problematic qualities of morphine. The centipede’s venom may be a breakthrough in this cause.
Lai’s team identified and isolated a compound called RhTx from a toxin found in the Chinese red-headed centipede. This chemical may have the ability to turn pain on and off like a switch.
The importance of effective painkillers, including drugs like morphine and codeine, cannot be overstated. Despite the possible side effects, their use is crucial in cancer patients and those suffering from post-war trauma and combat injuries.
That is where Lai’s team comes in. The theory behind the study is that if a particular chemical can activate the pain mechanism, it theoretically can be reversed to shut the switch off. After years of research, the scientists identified RhTx - which binds to a heat-sensing proteins in humans called TRPV1.
Lai notes that the TRPV1 protein is a popular research subject in trying to create new, effective painkillers. But, as Lai points out, “It is still too early to say whether the centipede toxin will replace morphine and become the ultimate painkiller. There are long roads ahead.”
“Pain is a very complex scientific issue, with lots of questions remaining about its underlying mechanisms.”