AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: painkillers

Scared of that tarantula? Don’t be- you could use it for science.


Photo taken by Alvaro

How is it going readers? Today I will be talking about something that has been on my mind and will make you say “bioh, wow that is crazy.” Tarantulas, a type of spider feared by most people, carry a dangerous venom. However, Australian researchers recently discovered that the venom, when used correctly, can actually double as an effective but significantly less addictive painkiller. This peptide is found in the Peruvian green velvet tarantula, and has an official name of ProTx-II. It was originally identified by researchers at Yale, when after examining over 100 different samples of spider venom looking for a potential sample that could block the pain sensing neurons in the brain. To dig deeper into the science of it, researchers are looking for the exact peptide receptor that actually does the binding on the surface of cells. They are also searching for answers as to what aspects of the cell membrane allow it to do this. A very important pain receptor on the cell membrane is NaV1.7. Sonya Henriques, a researcher at the University of Queensland, described the situation by saying, “Our results show that the cell membrane plays an important role in the ability of ProTx-II to inhibit the pain receptor. In particular, the neuronal cell membranes attract the peptide to the neurons, increase its concentration close to the pain receptors, and lock the peptide in the right orientation to maximize its interaction with the target.” Although this potential discovery is in a very early stage, this could be an incredible breakthough. Only time will tell if spider venom can be used effectively and without extreme side effects to treat pain.

Childproof Caps – Are They Actually Smarter than Kids?

Image by Tom Varco

Image by Tom Varco

Recent studies have shown that although there seems to be a “childproof” cap that has revolutionized medication safety, children have still developed the ability to outsmart it.

According to this study, more than 34,000 children in the United States are hospitalized due to the ingestion of prescription drugs found around their home. Twelve drugs were seen as suspect, including oxycodone, bupropion, and clonazepam, but most commonly opioids and benzodiazepines, or anti-anxiety pills, which accounted for 45% of the reported hospitalizations.

The study focused on the admittances to 63 different hospitals from 2007 to 2011, and the rate of the amount of children admitted for unsupervised ingestion of prescription drugs. Of these thousands of children under the age of 6, three quarters of them were reported to be between the ages of 1 and 2.

While much of this issue is caused by parents who do not properly secure or put the medications away, researchers are looking for future ways to further protect children from the ability to open the bottles. This includes flow restrictions on the amount of liquid medication intake, as well as unit-dose packaging within the bottles of solid prescription drugs.

This article is interesting because often times we hear about and think of overdosing in a way that highlights the intention of adults, but never the unintentional suffering of children. However, its important to see the dangers of serious drugs on young children, and necessary to make a change! Will society be able to monitor a child’s intake at times when their caretakers are not?

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Researchers Harness Natural Painkillers with Electric Stimulation

The human body creates an analgesic called endogenous morphine, or endorphins, that are released in response to intense stimuli such as exercise, excitement, pain, and orgasm. These painkillers are endogenous opioid peptides originating in the pituitary gland, brain, and spinal cord that function as neurotransmitters, blocking pain and creating a sense of well being upon release. They are partially behind “runner’s high”, which occurs after continuous, strenuous exercise. Released endorphins allow a runner to surpass what would otherwise be their physical limits, as well as creating a sense of euphoria and happiness (a similar euphoria one experiences when ingesting opiates). Generally speaking, the feelings endorphins cause exist to tell us that we are doing a good thing – like eating food and having sex – and to encourage us to keeping seeking those things out.

It is the chemical’s analgesic properties, however, that are of particular interest to scientists at Michigan University led by Alexander DaSilva, who have successfully used a technique called transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS, to catalyze the release of endorphins. In this procedure, a tiny amount of current (2 milliamps) is applied to the brain, altering the behavior its component neurons. Previously, a similar procedure has been used to alter the speed of neuronal reactions and neuroplasticity – making a person able to react and learn faster. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has used this process to “speed up the training of military snipers”.

In this case, tDCS caused the release of endogenous m-opioids (a type of endorphin) when electrodes were placed over the motor cortex. In the researchers’ study, the pain thresholds of test subjects increased significantly, though certain types of pain – such the kind caused by migraines – were not mediated. The scientists think that with repeated use, tDCS could address migraine pain as well.

If further study reveals this method of releasing natural painkillers to treat chronic pain to be viable, doctors could “decrease the use of opiates in general, and consequently avoid their side effects, including addiction”, says DaSilva. At the moment, the researcher caution that more analysis is necessary before tDCS can be used as treatment for chronic pain. In other words, don’t go out and buy a tDCS kit for that backache.


The Problem With Pain Killers

Photo Credit: Flickr user ragesoss

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I get injured… a lot.  As a sufferer of everything from neck and shoulder to hip pain I found a new study to be quite encouraging.  A study that was published in The Annals of Internal Medicineproves that exercise and chiropractic care are more effective in treating neck pain that pain killers.  Although exercise is more difficult and chiropractic care more time consuming than taking a pill for pain its is clear that both are better for your body, and your pain level.

Dr. Gert Bronfor who is the author of the study works as a research professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University in Minnesota got 272 people to participate in his study.  He took those people and split them into three groups, the first group went to chiropractors about 15 times in the three month span of the study for sessions lasting approximately 20 minutes.  The second group went to two physical therapy meetings and got a list of exercises to do at home (5-10 reps up to eight times a day).  The final group was told to take common painkillers, and if a doctor said it was necessary stronger narcotics and muscle relaxants.  At the end of the three month study 57% of people who visited the chiropractors and 48% of people who did the exercises reported feeling at least a 75% improvement while only 33% of people in the medicated group reported a 75% reduction in pain.

The study doesn’t end there Dr.Bronfor checked back in a year later and found that 53% of subjects who had chiropractic care, and about the same amount who did exercises, reported a 75% improvement in neck pain.  Only 38% of those who had been taking pain medicine reported feeling 75% better a year later, and most of the participants who had begun to use the pain killers had continued to use them and had increased the dosage and the frequency that they took the pain killers.  This alone lead to the participants having to deal with problems, as the side effects of the pain killers can cause a slew of issues all their own.  So now that you’ve read about the study next time you have a neck ache will you call the chiropractor or reach for that bottle of painkillers?

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