By Christian Edwards
SYDNEY, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- In groundbreaking research published this week, Australian and Chinese researchers have successfully isolated a molecule in centipede venom that reportedly has the potential and potency to be developed into a painkiller as powerful as morphine.
The findings were published in the scientific journal " Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences".
Researchers from The University of Queensland (UQ) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) examined the venom of the Chinese red-headed centipede as part of a wider commitment to finding practical and lasting solutions for the 20 percent of the Australian population who suffer from chronic pain.
Professor Glenn King, from UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB), told Xinhua the molecule discovered in partnership with UQ's Chinese collaborators blocked the "Nav1.7" channel inherent in human nerves.
"People without a functioning Nav1.7 channel cannot feel pain, so it's likely molecules that can block this channel will be powerful painkillers," Professor King said.
The news will be welcomed by the one in five Australians, including adolescents and children, living with chronic pain.
According to figures from Pain Australia, this prevalence rises to one in three for Australians over 65.
"Pain is one of the biggest health issues in Australia today every bit as big as cancer, AIDS and coronary heart disease. Yet it remains one of the most neglected areas of health-care," Professor Michael Cousins AM, Chair National Pain Strategy.
The research continues Professor King's outstanding track record of molecular exploration, including last month's stunning discovery of a natural component of Australian tarantula venom more potent than many existing chemical insecticides.
Unglamorously coined 'OAIP-1' Professor King predicted it could be developed into an environmentally friendly insecticide.
Professor King is also involved in research that could lead to the development of an environmentally friendly insecticide harnessing toxin from Australian tarantula venom.
"There is an urgent need for new insecticides due to insects becoming resistant to existing products and others being deregistered due to perceived ecological and human health risks," Professor King said last month.
"We recently demonstrated that the venom of the Chinese red- headed centipede was rich in molecules that can alter the function of nerve channels, so we decided to explore this venom to see if there was a molecule that could block Nav1.7."
"The molecule we found selectively targets this pain channel, which is crucial as closely related channels play critical roles in controlling the heart and muscles."
Professor King said it is likely that centipedes had evolved the molecule to block similar nerve channels in insects in order to prey on them.
"There are a number of FDA-approved drugs derived from venom components currently on the market, with several more in clinical trials or various stages of preclinical development," Professor King said.
"Our study suggests that centipede venoms, which to date have been largely unstudied, might provide a new source of potential drugs for treating chronic pain and other conditions."
According to a report by Access Economics, chronic pain cost Australia 34.3 billion Australian dollars through reduced productivity and health costs.
CEO of Painaustralia, Lesley Brydon, said "There is very low awareness of chronic pain and best practice pain management in the community and among health professionals. It can have a major impact on people's capacity to work and their quality of life."
This most recent collaboration with researchers from the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences follow's UQ's hosting of 23 undergraduate science and biomedical students from China's Fudan University earlier this year.
The visiting students joined a six-week research experience program in the lab that best suits their research interests at UQ' s Diamantina Institute, Institute for Molecular Bioscience and Queensland Brain Institute.
This research experience program exchange between the two universities was initially established thanks to a collaboration between UQ's Diamantina Institute and Fudan University.
Fudan University is one of China's leading universities and is a fellow member of Universitas 21, an international network of 27 leading research-intensive universities in fifteen countries that aims to facilitate collaboration.
The IMB is one of Australia's most innovative scientific hubs and a leading research institute of the University of Queensland. The IMB describes its purpose as "to improve quality of life by advancing personalized medicine, drug discovery and biotechnology".