Researchers have discovered a new potential source of pain relief for chronic IBS sufferers: a molecule derived from tarantula venom.
The international team of scientists from Australia, the US and Germany found that one dose of the spider-venom infused treatment reduced symptoms associated with IBS pain in mice.
Tarantula venom was chosen as the focus of the study, as it contains the richest known source of molecules that alter the activity of sodium channels — body signalling pathways responsible for recognising and feeling pain.
According to the NHS, irritable bowel syndrome is a common condition affecting the digestive system. It causes stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. Episodes of the life-long condition tend to come and go and last anywhere between a couple of days to months at a time.
Little more is known about the condition as the cause remains unknown and there is currently no cure, with few treatment options available. Changes in diet and medicines are often prescribed to help control the symptoms, but no effective treatment exists for the chronic condition.
Many of the medications available can only be taken on a short-term basis as they work by indiscriminately blocking sodium signalling pathways in the body. While these pathways are responsible for communicating pain to the brain and causing painful sensations, they are also responsible for many other functions.
The researchers wanted to find a way to selectively target the pain pathways activated through chronic IBS pain, without compromising other body functions.
Mice with an IBS-related condition were treated with a single dose of Tsp1a — the molecule derived from the venom of a Peruvian tarantula. The treatment was applied to the mice’s colons, and researchers monitored a reflex associated with IBS pain in mice.
They found that following the treatment, the occurrence of the pain reflex was significantly reduced, suggesting that the tarantula venom molecule effectively provided pain relief among the mice. They also found that the treatment did not interfere with other bodily functions.
Based on these findings, the researchers believe that Tsp1a could be safely used to treat chronic IBS pain in humans, following thorough additional studies that investigate how the venom-derived molecule reacts within the human immune system.
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