Centipede venom is the “perfect painkiller”

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

centipede venom
Oh my goodness, look at the size of that thing! I definitely don’t want to find the red-headed centipede anywhere in my house.

Is it just me, or does the thought of having venom injected into your body sound dangerous? Well, I can’t tell you who thought to test it out first, but according to researchers from Australia and China, venom from the red-headed centipede can be used as a painkiller.

This may sound surprising, but there are actually 6 other medicines created from animal poison. However, only one – which comes from a snail of all places – is used to treat pain. There’s just one catch: it only hits a small, very specific part of the nervous system, so patients need to have a special device implanted into their bodies for it to work. Centipede venom, on the other hand, can be taken orally, as a shot, or dripped into the veins from an IV bag.

So, how did all these buggers get so good at having poison target the nervous system in the first place? “Venomous arthropod predators, like centipedes, scorpions, and spiders, worked out a couple of hundred million years ago that the best way to kill an insect is to target their nervous system,” explained study co-author Glenn King, from the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience. “So that’s why [we] decided to study centipede venom.”

Once the venom’s inside the body, it targets the pain (and nothing else) through a channel called Nav1.7. This basically makes it the perfect painkiller, as the researchers describe it. “There are individuals who are born with non-functional Nav1.7 channels and these people have a complete inability to feel pain, and no other significant problems apart from loss of smell sensation,” said pain specialist Michael Vagg. “Forget about using opioids to relieve pain, this drug could mean you don’t have any pain to relieve. It would be [a] totally new class of drug.”

So far, the venom has only been tested on rodents, but the scientists are confident that it’ll be ready to use on humans in as little as two years.

Featured image courtesy of Yasunori Koide on Wikipedia. Image of centipede courtesy of Thomas Brown on Wikimedia.