Protein in tick saliva emerges as possible treatment for chronic pain and severe itching
DURHAM, England — Ticks are one of the most feared insects in humans, but they can bring good after all. A new drug derived from the saliva of pathogenic arachnids could potentially relieve itching and chronic pain in humans.
The protein was discovered in the saliva of the brown ear tick, which spreads the parasites that cause East Coast fever in cattle across Africa. Today, it is hoped that drugs made from this drug will one day replace opioids, which can be ineffective, have serious side effects, and be addictive.
Researchers from the universities of Durham and Newcastle in England claim that the protein, called Votucalis, was able to relieve both pain and itching in a study involving mice. The compound was discovered when researchers found that the brown ear tick was able to secrete it into its host. They say Votucalis was delivered to the host while they were feeding, so the host didn’t know they had been bitten.
On a chemical level, the protein binds to histamine produced in the body from activation, which reduces responses to itchiness or chronic pain. Unlike opioids, research shows that votucalis does not enter the brain, which means it is much less likely to be addictive and less likely to cause side effects.
“Votucalis has already been tested in humans with other conditions, including conjunctivitis, with no major side effects, so the potential for it to be developed into a drug to combat chronic pain and itching is definitely there. “said co-author Dr. Ilona Obara, of Newcastle University, in a statement. “It is amazing that a protein in the saliva of this tiny creature can prevent chronic pain and itching in humans. These are conditions that bring an enormous amount of misery, and current drugs show limited efficacy, and can also often be detrimental to patients.
Possible treatments for the drug include atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, arthritis, diabetes, sciatica, and back injuries.
The researchers say the next step toward clinical testing is to develop a delivery system to effectively deliver the drug to the site of itching and pain. “Persistent or chronic pain is a huge global health challenge, affecting more than 20% of the population,” says co-author Dr Paul Chazot of Durham University. “It is the number one reason Britons see their doctor and it is recognized as a priority disease by the World Health Organization.
“The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended that current opioid and gabapentinoid pain relievers should not be prescribed to patients newly diagnosed with chronic pain, except for people with cancer, so there is an urgent need to develop a new long-term treatment – a long-lasting, effective and safe-to-use drug,” continues Chazot. “Our study is the first to show evidence of the itch and pain-relieving potential of Votucalis, which is very exciting. We may be on the verge of discovering a viable alternative to opioid and gabapentinoid drugs.
The research is published in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology.
South West News Service writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.