The deadly venom of the black mamba snake may hold the key to better pain management.
In a newly released study in the Journal Nature, French scientists say the venom could be as powerful as morphine, without many of the negative side effects.
The reptile predator is one of the fastest and most dangerous snakes in Africa. According to Discover Magazine, the black mamba can move at up to speeds of 12.5 miles per hour.
The snake uses neurotoxins to paralyze and kill small animals. The scientists studied those same neurotoxins and found that it also contained a strong pain killer.
Dr Eric Lingueglia, from the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology, told the BBC, "When it was tested in mice, the analgesia was as strong as morphine, but you don't have most of the side-effects."
Discover Magazine reported that the venom compounds work by detecting and responding to positively charged protons (known as ASICs) that are released when a person is injured. The scientists, "found two peptides (short proteins) from black mamba venom that block ASICs—mambalgin-1 and mambalgin-2. They act as padlocks that latch onto the closed proteins and stop them from opening, even when surrounded by protons. And they have characteristics that are almost too good to be true."
These peptides numb the pain, without numbing other neurons from firing other information, something other painkillers often do. The peptides also do not have any toxic effects, such as paralysis, convulsions or breathing difficulties.
Zoltan Takacs, a herpetologist and toxinologist named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2010, warned that while the outlook is promising for the venom pain killer, it is not guaranteed. He told National Geographic, "To develop a new drug, you need 10-to-15 years, $1 billion," he said, "and you still have no guarantees."