Researchers at University of Queensland and from China have found that the venom used by a Chinese red-headed centipede in paralyzing its prey harbors a molecule that could be more effective than morphine in blocking pain.
Co-author of the study, Professor Glenn King revealed that there are nine different human proteins, known as voltage-gated sodium channels or Nav, that influence electrical signaling in neurons and other excitable cells. Studies have also shown that Nav 1.7 channel has a key role in pain transmission in the human body and people who have a mutation of this protein are unable to feel pain.
The researchers found that a molecule present in the centipede venom displayed 150 times selectivity for Nav1.7 over other Nav channels. On testing the peptide molecule by injecting a high dose into mice, the researchers did not find any side effects while thermal and acid-induced pain tests revealed that it had an effect similar to morphine and chemical-induced pain experiments showed it to be more effective than morphine.
"Centipedes worked out hundreds of millions of years ago the easiest way to catch prey was to paralyse them by blocking their Nav channel. We're just lucky that of the nine Nav channels in humans, it hit the one we were after", King said.