Cheaper painkillers soon thanks to opium breakthrough

March 15th, 2010 - 10:43 am ICT by IANS  

Toronto, March 15 (IANS) Canadian researchers have decoded opium poppy which will lead to cheaper and mass production of the current costly pain killers. Currently, the morphine is the most used painkiller around the world.
Researchers at Canada’s University of Calgary revealed Sunday that they have decoded the unique genes in the opium poppy that allow it to make codeine and then morphine painkiller.

The enzymes in these unique genes can be harnessed to readily and easily mass produce pain killers, said researchers led by biological sciences professor Peter Facchini.

“The enzymes encoded by these two genes have eluded plant biochemists for a half-century,” Facchini told the Canadian Press Sunday.

“In finding not only the enzymes but also the genes, we’ve made a major step forward. It’s equivalent to finding a gene involved in cancer or other genetic disorders,” said the Canadian professor who has been doing research on poppy opium for about 20 years.

Facchini and fellow researcher Jillian Hagel uses state-of-the-art scanners to unlock the genetic secrets of poppy opium.

Hagel, who herself scanned nearly 23,000 different genes on a tiny slide, finally decoded the gene called codeine /O/-dementhylase which produces the plant enzyme that converts codeine into morphine.

Calling it their ‘eureka moments,’ the Canadian researcher said, “Science is like that. It’s a lot of tedious work, then you have these seconds of sheer excitement because you know you’ve found something.”

Facchini, who has filed a patent for his work, said their discovery will soon help produce morphine cheaper to benefit users.

Their work was published Sunday in Nature Chemical Biology.

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