The mysterious language of pain and the fight to switch it off

Dr Irina Vetter and her team are demystifying the different pathways that contribute to pain in various disease states so that we can help the one in five Australians that live with chronic pain.

“Chronic pain costs the Australian economy around $40 billion per year and the global pain market continues to grow. It causes enormous disruption to people's physical and mental wellbeing and their personal life,” Dr Vetter said.

Current drugs either don't work or have terrible side effects, like addiction. But the Vetter Group is looking to change that. They hope to develop better treatments for pain - targeted treatments with no adverse side effects. They are searching for answers in what might seem like a peculiar place – venoms.

“Sensory neurons transmit pain messages, and for a sting to be effective, it must be painful. So venomous animals and toxins have evolved to very specifically target sensory neurons.

"To treat pain, we also need to be able to target sensory neurons, so we’re examining the active components in venom and toxins to see if they can teach us how to do that.”

The Vetter Group is currently very excited by a venom-derived compound that targets a particular protein on a nerve whose role is to signal pain.

“The protein is not involved in touch or other sensations. So this compound has exciting prospects as a pain drug. It is very selective, which means it doesn’t have any side effects, so we will take this further and hopefully make a new drug,” said Dr Vetter.

The group is currently looking for funding to continue their research on the compound to explore which disease-related pain and acute pain the compound would be effective against.

Help find a better solution to chronic pain.