U of U researchers: sea snails could help end opioid epidemic

Posted at 7:24 PM, Feb 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-22 00:50:12-05

SALT LAKE CITY - Cone snails from the Caribbean Sea are the answer to our opioid epidemic, according to researchers at the University of Utah.

“These are the dominant predators in the marine reef, though,” said Dr. Michael McIntosh, a professor of psychiatry at the U Health Sciences. “They have a cocktail of venom components they use they harpoon their prey with a disposable tooth then press the venom into the fish or snail or worm then paralyze it and they swallow it whole."

The venom is what psychiatrist Dr.McIntosh and his colleague, a distinguished biologist at the U Baldomero Olivera, are manipulating to treat chronic pain. They say a component in the venom goes through different pain pathway than an opioid travels through in the body by treating it faster, alleviating the pain longer, and preventing pain in the future.

“Opioids are very effective with treating short term pain but much more problematic for ongoing use,” said McIntosh.

The research is backed by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense.

“We hope that it won't just treat pain but it will help go to the root cause of the pain,” said Olivera.

The U's researchers are certainly not working at a snail's pace, they are making strides in this new research. If you want to read more about the study’s details click here.