Platypus venom may help scientists design new pain killers in future

March 27th, 2009 - 2:32 pm ICT by ANI  

Sydney, March 27 (ANI): Analyzing the venom of a platypus may help scientists design new pain killers in the future.

According to a report by ABC News, molecular biologist Camilla Whittington has been granted a Fulbright Scholarship to analyse the components of the venom, which can cause severe pain.

“Once we know which one causes pain, then people can start to work to understand how it does that and then develop novel pain killers,” said Whittington, a PhD student at the University of Sydney.

Venom from snakes have already yielded treatments for heart and blood problems, but very little is known about venom from mammals.

The platypus is one of only five mammals that produce venom.

Whittington said that the venom is injected by the male platypus, which has sharp spurs on each hind leg that can spring into action when the animal is attacked.

She said that the venom causes extreme long-lasting pain and swelling that can be tricky to treat.

“We know morphine doesn’t relieve the pain of envenomation; so we’re thinking there may be new pain pathways that are involved in causing the pain - ones that we haven’t discovered yet,” she said.

“If we can work out what causes the pain, we can start to understand how it does that and then maybe work out how to block it,” she added.

But, before that can happen a lot of basic research needs to be done.

According to Whittington, so far only three components of platypus venom have been identified, including peptides related to antimicrobial peptides and nerve growth factors.

Interestingly, available evidence suggests similar proteins have evolved twice, being found in both reptiles and platypus.

“We think it’s an example of convergent evolution,” said Whittington.

She said that studies suggest there may be 50 compounds in platypus venom and her job is now to identify them all so they can then be tested further. (ANI)

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