DAVIS (CBS13) – Tarantulas are normally something you'd scream in horror of at first sight.
But, researchers at UC Davis are hoping to turn that into screams of joy.
"Nature offers such a wide diversity of, you know, proteins that basically for us are building blocks of future medicines," Dr. Vladimir Yarov-Yarovoy, UC Davis Health, said.
Yarov-Yarovoy is one of the lead researchers in charge of a 20-person team.
What they are doing is reprograming the proteins of the venom called peptides from these hairy spiders and turning it into a pain killer.
"We redesign that peptide to make it more selective for particular receptors in our nervous system that are highly responsible for pain signals," Yarov-Yarovoy said.
"We expect it to be a game-changer really," Phuong Nguyen, a research team member, said.
For some of the team members, it was a no-brainer to help get a leg up on the opioid epidemic.
"For us, it's cool. Really cool because we're maybe a few people doing that," Nguyen said.
"Because it's related to safety of the medication in the future. We want to make it as safe as possible," Yarov-Yarovoy said.
The team is pouring over various computer-generated models with a program called Rosetta and microscopes to see how to change the protein into this new drug.
So far, the results are eye-opening just like the spiders they're testing.
"It's already showing promise to be as potent as morphine but without the side effects of opioids," Yarov-Yarovoy said.
This local portion of a NHI initiative could take some time – at least five years – before any new meds from it hit the shelves.
Even though it's a crawl to the finish line, it's an important victory in the opioid pandemic all thanks to some venom.
"All of these steps, all of these years are worth it to create new pain therapeutic that is safe," Yarov-Yarovoy said.
UC Davis said this isn't the only new pain medication to be created at the university.
In 2020, the FDA gave a fast-tracked designation to a non-narcotic drug developed by another professor for humans and companion animals.
As for this project, it's still unclear at this time what specific kind of pain killer it would become. Yarov-Yarovoy said the long-term goal is to have it be something someone can get at a pharmacy, while the short-term goals would be administered by injection at a clinic or other medical facility.
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