Durham University: Tick saliva could ease chronic pain and itching

New research shows that the protein – called Votucalis – provided pain and itch relief in research involving mice.

The findings from Durham and Newcastle Universities and pharmaceutical company Akari Therapeutics Plc could lead to a replacement for traditional opioid painkillers that researchers say are largely ineffective, can have serious side-effects and can be addictive.

Binding histamine

Votucalis is derived from the saliva of the Rhipicephalus appendiculatus tick which secretes the substance into its host when feeding so the host is unaware that they’ve been bitten.

It’s a biologic drug that works by binding histamine in the human body, stopping the histamine from activating its four cell receptors. This leads to reduced itching and pain.

Conditions that cause chronic pain or itching include atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, arthritis, diabetes, sciatica, back injuries.

Priority disease

Persistent or chronic pain is a huge global health challenge, which affects over 20 per cent of the population.

It is the single biggest reason that people in the UK visit their doctor and it is recognised as a priority disease by the World Health Organisation.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has recommended that current opioid and gabapentinoid pain medications should not be prescribed to patients newly diagnosed with chronic pain, apart from cancer sufferers.

Viable alternative to opioid and gabapentinoid drugs

There is an urgent need to develop a new, long-lasting medication that is both effective and safe to use.

The anti-itch and pain relief potential of Votucalis means we could be on the brink of discovering a viable alternative to opioid and gabapentinoid drugs.

Unlike opioids – which are morphine-based – the research shows that Votucalis does not enter the brain, which means it is not addictive and less likely to cause side-effects.

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