It is not unusual for science to draw inspiration from nature. Furthermore, a lot of natural materials are helping modern day medicine and could not be supplemented with synthetic ones. Now an international team of scientists used spider venom to identify a new therapy target for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome pain.
It is said that these finding are great news for many people, since as many as 20% of all Australians suffer from of irritable bowel syndrome, which, between other symptoms, causes pain. This newly identified potential drug target is a protein, called an ion channel NaV1.1, involved in transmitting mechanical pain. It was previously discovered that this protein participates in the progression of epilepsy.
Scientists found that this protein can be activated using a spider venom, which suggested that it is important in the process of sensing and transmitting pain. Further research identified the presence of NaV1.1 in pain-sensing nerves in the gut, which means it plays a significant role abdominal pain, such as that felt by irritable bowel syndrome patients.
It is even more interesting how this potential drug target has been discovered. Scientists tested out 109 spider, scorpion and centipede venoms, but the venom from a species of tarantula native to West Africa, Heteroscodra maculata, produced the strongest result. It may sound strange, but venom is actually a natural and very effective tool for investigation of signalling paths in the human body.
Associate Professor Stuart Brierley, one of the leaders of the study, explained: “Spiders make toxins to kill prey and defend themselves against predators, and the most effective way to defend against a predator is to make them feel excruciating pain.Spider venom should therefore be full of molecules that stimulate the pain-sensing nerves in our body, allowing us to discover new pain pathways by examining which nerves are activated when exposed to spider toxins”.
The next step for the research team is to use this knowledge in a practical application. Scientists will develop special molecules that can block NaV1.1 and alleviate irritable bowel syndrome pain. This research is one out of many good examples how nature is still working hand in hand with modern day science.