Marine snails could provide relief from chronic pain

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 that may do the trick.

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

Chronic pain after a car accident forced Griffith to be homebound.

“I hurt. I hurt. I hurt. It affects you physically, but mentally as well,” Griffith shared.

Michael McIntosh, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Utah, and Medical Director of Primary Care Mental Health Integration, Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and his team found that a compound in 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,” said Dr. McIntosh.

Doctor McIntosh says 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 Griffith, 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. It comes back,” Griffith said.

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,” said Brent Beardsley, the Public Programs Manager at Loveland Living Planet Aquarium.

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

Doctor 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.

Reporter:Channing Frampton
Do you see a typo or an error? Let us know.
SHARE