This Caribbean Snail Just Might Help Us Fight the Opioid Epidemic

Snail shellThere is a lot of good work being done to combat the opioid epidemic. Educators are helping medical students better understand the signs and symptoms of abuse, clinicians are advocating for more holistic pain management methods and state agencies are compiling prescription registries to combat the practice of “doctor shopping”.

In this same vein, one of the most promising advancements in research has somewhat surprising roots. In the Caribbean Sea, actually.

Scientists at the University of Utah have discovered a compound, derived from a tiny snail, that blocks pain but avoids the addictive pathways of traditional opioids.

Researchers studied the Conus regius species, a small marine cone snail whose venom packs quite a punch, capable of paralyzing and killing its prey. But, it also has one curious side-effect. The venom produced by this tiny snail may actually have therapeutic applications. Specifically, it can help relieve pain but without the addictive qualities of traditional opioids.

Researchers published their findings in a recent edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In this article, the lead authors of the study assert that Rg1A (derived from the snail) acts on a pain pathway in a different way than standard opioid drugs. This pathway adds to the small number of nonopioid-based pathways that could be explored to treat chronic pain.

“What is particularly exciting about these results is the aspect of prevention,” said J. Michael McIntosh, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah Health Sciences. “Once chronic pain has developed, it is difficult to treat. This compound offers a potential new pathway to prevent pain from developing in the first place and offer a new therapy to patients who have run out of options.”

“RgIA4 works by an entirely new pathway, which opens the door for new opportunities to treat pain,” said McIntosh. “We feel that drugs that work by this pathway may reduce burden of opioid use.”

Chronic and debilitating pain is a harsh reality for many Americans. But, we can reduce their risk of developing an addiction to prescription painkillers with more advanced treatments that are engineered to bypass addictive pathways. At Christian Rehab Network, we are inspired to learn about this, and other research projects designed to help us do just that.

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