This eight-inch-long Chinese redheaded centipede may not be the most obvious remedy for chronic pain, but a molecule derived from its venom is proving to be a powerful painkiller. The molecule, known as Ssm6a, is a peptide – a smaller version of a protein – that has been fine-tuned by millions of years of evolution to block a cellular gateway called sodium channel NaV1.7. This channel is involved in pain sensing, and blocking it inhibits the ability of nerve cells to send pain signals to the brain. When Ssm6a was tested on mice, it relieved pain more effectively than morphine and without any side effects. The researchers who discovered the peptide will now try to tweak its molecular structure to optimise its impact and make it safe for humans. If they’re successful, Ssm6a could join the dozens of venom-derived peptides already in the drug development pipeline.
Written by Daniel Cossins
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