Snails offer hope for pain sufferers
The humble but lethal sea snail may hold the key to a better life for thousands of chronic pain sufferers.
Researchers from the University of Queensland believe conotoxins contained in potentially deadly sea snail venom could be used to create a treatment to replace conventional pain relief drugs such as morphine.
Dr Jenny Ekberg said her research had shown the conotoxin could produce pain relief without side effects in animals.
However, the conotoxin is yet to be tested on humans and Dr Ekberg said it could be several years before the treatment was able to be produced in marketable quantities.
"It's working beautifully at the moment, we just have to learn to synthesize it properly so that we can get enough amounts to start chemical trials on humans," she said.
Dr Ekberg said the lack of side effects meant the conotoxin had the potential to completely revolutionise pain treatment for cancer patients and chronic and neuropathic pain sufferers.
"Unlike other anaesthetics, it's very specific against the pain and doesn't cause any side effects - it's the first time anyone has discovered anything like this," she said.
Conventional medicines such as morphine can cause a range of unpleasant side effects, including nausea, vision and movement defects and drowsiness.
These symptoms often rendered sufferers unable to work and could lead to depression and, in some cases, suicide, Dr Ekberg said.
"I've met people with this, it's really horrible ... neuropathic pain, which is caused by damaged nerves, not tissue, you have to live with forever," she said.
If the research proves successful Dr Ekberg hopes the treatment will allow sufferers to live normal lives and continue working.
She believed the treatment would initially be administered through hospitals but hoped patients would eventually be able to inject it themselves at home.© 2006 AAP