YOUR HEALTH: Could snails relieve chronic pain?

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The opioid crisis in America is quickly growing, but one solution could come at a snail's pace.

University of Utah researchers are looking to a poison in some snails to solve part of the problem.

It could work for Danielle Griffith.

"I've had a headache every day of my life since 2002."

Chronic pain after a car accident forced her to be home-bound.

"I hurt, I hurt, I hurt," she said.   "It affects you not only physically, but mentally as well."

University of Utah professor Michael McIntosh and his team found that a compound, that venom cone snails use to hunt, targets pain pathways after a nerve injury.

"What we've discovered is a compound that if you administer it at the time of injury of a nerve, not only helps to treat the pain, but accelerates the functional recovery of that nerve," explained Dr. McIntosh, who is also a medical director at the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Cone snails are a group of marine snails that can be found in tropical seas and oceans around the world, but some live in more temperate habitats such as the waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the waters around Southern California, or even the southern cape of South Africa.   Their highly specialized teeth work like a combination of hypodermic needles and harpoons to skewer and poison its prey.

Dr. McIntosh says pain relief lasted for weeks in animals tests.

His research shows the compound may reduce nerve injury that causes chronic pain.   That's good news for folks like Danielle, who took opioids for her pain.

"Yes, you may get the pain to be managed for a couple or few hours, but that`s it. it comes back."

They know cone snails at Utah's Loveland Living Planet Aquarium. They're not surprised a solution may come from the sea.

"It's important to save the ocean, not just for answers like this, but answers to questions we haven't even thought of asking yet," said Brent Bardsley, public programs manager at the Aquarium.

NEW RESEARCH:  University of Utah researchers are investigating natural solutions to treat chronic pain.   They have discovered a compound in the venom of cone snails that may be the answer.   This compound targets pain pathways after a nerve injury, and when administered to the nerve at the time of injury not only does it help treat the pain but it accelerates the functional recovery of that nerve. It has been animal- tested and results have shown pain relief lasted for weeks.   Their research shows the compound may even reduce the nerve injury that causes chronic pain.   The many pieces of cone snail have thousands of compounds in their venom that could potentially treat other diseases as well.   The researchers are hopeful their studies could keep acute pain from evolving into chronic pain, thus reducing the need for opioids.   The plan to move into human trials may begin in the next couple of years.

Dr. McIntosh says the many species of cone snail have thousands of compounds in their venom that could potentially treat disease.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.