According to the study, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, researchers from the University of Queensland have designed a novel tarantula venom mini-protein that can potentially relieve severe pain without addiction.
The current opioid crisis around the world meant urgent alternatives to morphine and morphine-like drugs, such as fentanyl and oxycodone, were desperately needed, they said.
"Although opioids are effective in producing pain relief, they come with unwanted side-effects like nausea, constipation and the risk of addiction, placing a huge burden on society," said study researcher Christina Schroeder from the University of Queensland in Australia.
"Our study found that a mini-protein in tarantula venom from the Chinese bird spider, known as Huwentoxin-IV, binds to pain receptors in the body," Schroeder added.
"By using a three-pronged approach in our drug design that incorporates the mini-protein, its receptor and the surrounding membrane from the spider venom, we've altered this mini-protein resulting in greater potency and specificity for specific pain receptors," she said.
This ensures that just the right amount of the mini-protein attaches itself to the receptor and the cell membrane surrounding the pain receptors.
According to the researchers, mini-protein had been tested in mouse models and shown to work effectively.
"Our findings could potentially lead to an alternative method of treating pain without the side-effects and reduce many individuals' reliance on opioids for pain relief," she added.