Conquering Chronic Pain with Tarantula Venom


Blue-winged warblers make shrill chirping sounds high up in the trees as adults walk dogs, children run around, and teenagers play soccer or baseball. For 30-year old Elizabeth, this typical outdoor scene holds no attraction. She has fibromyalgia, a complex chronic pain disorder that causes pain throughout her entire body and makes everyday a living nightmare. She has tried everything to make the pain go away: a healthy diet, exercise, over-the-counter pain medication and even spiritual counseling. The doctor has prescribed a wide variety of pain medications, some with disturbing side effects. Nothing has worked.

Pain is a universal sensation that is transmitted through the nerves by a series of signals to the brain. For people like Elizabeth with chronic pain disorders like fibromyalgia, the pain persists and can strip them of their well-being, productivity, and quality of life. It is estimated that 100 million adults are affected by chronic pain.

Tarantula Venom’s Significant Possibilities
Researchers at Yale University seeking more effective painkillers with fewer side effects discovered that venom of the Peruvian green velvet tarantula (Thrixopelma pruriens) blocks nerve signals that tell the brain something is causing pain in the body. Using a novel method of screening they call “toxineering, Dr. Michael Nitabach and his team tested toxins from many different tarantula species and identified a protein that blocks a specific ion channel located on the surface of pain-sensing neurons associated with inflammation and nerve pain. This finding offers hope to people with fibromyalgia, 85 per cent of whom are women.

As they search for safe and more effective pain-relieving drugs and therapies, Dr. Nitabach and his lab of dedicated “toxineers” are using their ability to screen millions of spider toxins. That’s good news for Elizabeth and the overwhelming number of people plagued by chronic pain. Elizabeth has a new appreciation for spiders now that she knows they not only kill pesky mosquitoes but also have the potential to help kill pain.

Works Cited

This article was written by Anna Molotkova. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cYw Editorial Staff