• Professor Glenn King of the University of Queensland. Photo credit: University of QueenslandProfessor Glenn King of the University of Queensland. Photo credit: University of Queensland

Spider venom could help ease the pain of IBS

Spiders have helped researchers from Australia and the US discover a new target for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) pain.

The international team of researchers, which includes scientists from both the University of Queensland and the University of Adelaide, used spider venom to identify a specific protein involved in transmitting mechanical pain - the type of pain experienced by patients with irritable bowel syndrome.

Professor Glenn King from the University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience Centre for Pain Research explains why they were looking at spider venom: "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 team tested 109 different types of spider, scorpion and centipede venoms, finding spider venom in particular, activates a protein in nerves and muscles known as NaV1.1 that senses and transmits pain.

Further investigation found that the same protein could also be found in the pain-sensing nerves of the human gut.

Associate Professor Stuart Brierley, currently Head of the University of Adelaide's Visceral Pain Group explained the objectives of the research: "Irritable bowel syndrome places a large burden on individuals and on the health system, but there are currently no effective treatments, instead, sufferers are advised to avoid triggers that will cause their symptoms to flare up. Identifying the crucial role NaV1.1 makes in signalling of chronic pain is the first step in developing novel treatments."

The team is now developing molecules that will block NaV1.1 and alleviate irritable bowel syndrome pain – don’t worry any future treatments won’t involve coming face-to-face with a spider!

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