Pain is the warning signal that tells our bodies when something is wrong.
Usually, pain disappears when the source of the pain has been removed and the injury heals. However, for one in five Australians, this pain never subsides and can last for months, years or even decades.
Despite being so common, chronic pain remains one of the most undertreated diseases in modern healthcare. Pain also has a big impact on the economy, costing Australia $34 billion per year — more than the collective cost of treating cancer, stroke and diabetes.
Chronic pain presents a significant challenge — it is complex, personal and difficult to manage. There are very few drugs available to treat chronic pain, and current treatments often have significant unwanted side effects such as addiction.
Just imagine if the key to curing pain is lurking inside the world's most toxic creatures?
Scientists at IMB's Centre for Pain Research are searching for potential painkillers in the venoms of spiders, scorpions, centipedes and cone snails.
Toxins found in animal venoms have evolved over millions of years to target nerves as this is the fastest and easiest way to incapacitate their prey. Some molecules cause pain and others block pain pathways. Molecules that cause pain help us to understand pain pathways, while molecules that block pain have direct potential as painkillers.
Within the venoms of spiders, snakes centipedes and cone snails, IMB scientists have found a number of toxins with all the right qualities for potential drugs that could be more effective than morphine with fewer side effects.
Our next step is to test these molecules in preclinical studies, and we hope to progress to clinical trials within two to three years.