Snail Venom Helping Patients With Spine Pain

Category: Back Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: March 9, 2016

snail venom spine pain

Snails may be slow, but their venom appears to be fast-acting for some patients with spine pain. Researchers have been looking at animal venom for some time as a way to control pain, from snakes to spiders, but it’s actually snail venom that’s leading the way. In fact, there’s already a drug created using the venom, and it works through a spinal injection. The drug is called Prialt, and in contains some venom of the marine snail.

Snails and Back Pain

Researcher Mande Holford said she first became interested in snail venom and peptides after listening to a guest lecture by a fellow scientist.

“He has this amazing video of a snail eating a fish,” said Holford. “and it just looked so crazy.”

In the video, Holford said a small snail ate a larger fish. She said the snail was able to accomplish this feat by using venom to paralyze the fish before slowly eating it. The venom contained more than 100 different types of peptides, and while the vast majority would be harmful to humans in large doses, one peptide caught their attention. This peptide was able to reduce pain in humans.

After lengthy study, researchers were able to create a synthetic version of the peptide in the form of Prialt, and it achieved FDA approval in 2004. Unfortunately, the drug has one major issue:

“It doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier,” said Holford, meaning that the drug can’t cross a certain membrane that would allow the drug entry into the brain, and thus can’t provide relief. Currently, the drug is only useful when injected directly into the spinal column. Skilled neurosurgeons may be able to administer the injection, but researchers are trying find ways to help the drug bypass the brain barrier.

“We’re using what I call our ‘Trojan horse strategy,’ in which we put the peptide inside of a carrier – which is called, in this case a viral nanocontainer,” said Holford. “Then, we sort of shuttle it across the blood-brain barrier, using another peptide, which is a cell-penetrating peptide, which can cut through all sorts of membranes – including the blood-brain barrier.”

As we mentioned above, the drug is currently only available in spinal injection form, but If future studies are successful, the drug may move to pill or intravenous form.

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