Secret to Discovering Painkillers May Be Hidden in This Venomous Tree Found in Australia

There’s an old Indian adage that says, ‘poison cancels out poison’. Researchers in Australia are taking the saying quite literally as they attempt to create painkillers from a pain-causing plant.

Australia is famous for its dangerous wildlife. Some of the most renowned venomous creatures live there, including snakes, spiders, centipedes, bees and ants. Even dangerous aquatic animals like jellyfish and fishes and poisonous plants are abundant on the continent. One such plant is the Australian Stinging tree.

Scientifically called Dendrocnide excelsa, the giant Stinging tree is famous for all the wrong reasons. Another dangerous plant of the continent is Gympie-Gympie – a shrub known to the world of Botany as Dendrocnide moroides. These plants are known for being highly toxic and causing excruciating, long-lasting pain in humans.

But a group of researchers believe these plants hold key to unlocking novel painkillers. The researchers examined the toxins produced by Gympie-Gympie in Brisbane at the University Queensland.

They discovered a new toxin in these plants which has been named “gympietides” after the tree in which they originate. The common habitat of these plants is along the Northern River region in New South Wales. They are also found in the tip region of Cape York Peninsula.

These plants have a needle-like extension on their surface, covering the whole body. These needle/hair-like extensions are called trichomes. The pain caused by these trichomes can last for hours on human skin, with repeated flares for days or even weeks.

As reported on news-medical, these trichomes might be tied to small-molecule neurotransmitters and inflammatory mediators. However, that cannot explain the observed sensory effects. Thus, they reached to a conclusion that there must be some unknown pain-causing peptides.

Their theory proved right when a molecular inspection revealed the presence of an intricate three-dimensional structure maintained by links within the molecule that forms a knotted shape. The gympietides have a similar effect like those of cone snail or spider venom.

These toxins affect ion channels in nerve cells that are known as mediators of pain. The researchers are focusing this study on understanding how this peptide causes pain. Their hope is to extract information on the function of pain-sensing nerves, and therefore, develop novel painkillers with this knowledge.

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