The poison of a deadly fish can replace painkillers.

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Scientists from Harvard Medical School (USA) have created an anesthetic from fugu fish poison, one of the most dangerous fish on earth, and have already successfully tested it on rats. A new painkiller can replace opioid analgesics that cause addiction in patients, according to Harvard Medical School.

Opioid analgesics are used for severe pain syndrome and in cases where conventional painkillers no longer work. Although a derivative of opium relieves pain by blocking receptors in the brain and spinal cord, it is usually addictive in a short time and can be fatal in overdose. For this reason, scientists are looking for an effective alternative to opioids, and their attention has long been attracted by one of the neurotoxins, tetrodotoxin, found in many marine and land animals. It is one of the strongest neuroparalytic poisons, 100 times more effective than potassium cyanide. It is deadly, even in small doses, as it causes paralysis — 1-2 milligrams is enough to kill an adult.

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A popular Japanese delicacy – fugu fish – contains so much tetrodotoxin that any mistake in its preparation is fraught with a lethal outcome. To obtain a license for cooking fugu, cooks take a special two-year course of study, after which they receive a special license.

Poisoning by tetrodotoxin contained in fugu is described as fast and acute. It begins with numbness in the mouth, followed by paralysis of the respiratory organs and death. Poisoned remains in consciousness until the very end.

Scientists have found that the effect of tetrodoxin is similar to opioids, because the poison blocks ion channels in the membranes of nerve and muscle cells, thereby closing the transmission of the nerve signal and causing muscle paralysis.

According to a study published in the journal Nature Communications, a method has been found that allows tetrodoxin to be slowly introduced into the body in small doses.

The team of Professor Daniel Solomon Kohane, instead of loading the toxin into particles, as it was done before, "chemically bound it to a biodegradable polymer that suppresses the toxic effect."

Photo: Alexey Kudenko / RIA News
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The combination of tetrodotoxin and polymer in combination with a chemical enhancer, a compound that made nervous tissue more permeable, allowed the use of even smaller amounts of tetrodotoxin. The hydrolysis that occurs in the body gradually destroys the polymer after the injection, releasing the lowest doses of tetrodoxin that are harmless to humans.

Laboratory experiments on rats, according to Kohane, were successful: scientists achieved a nerve blockade for "up to three days with minimal local or systemic toxicity and no visible signs of tissue damage."

Theoretically, researchers believe, blocking the nervous signal in people can last even longer and more efficiently. "For several days, or maybe weeks, for patients with cancer pain, for example," said Kohane.

But, of course, further research is needed before it becomes clear whether the method tested on rats will be safe and effective for humans.

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