DoD Invests in Sea Slugs to Mitigate Soldier Addiction

The shell of cone snail Conus regius.

The Department of Defense will provide the University of Utah with a $10 million dollar grant to investigate how the venom of sea slugs might provide an alternative to prescription opioid painkillers in order to mitigate soldier addiction.

By investigating the venom of certain types of sea slugs, a team of multidisciplinary researchers at University of Utah (U of U) Health believe they can develop an alternative to prescription painkillers that does not have the same addictive effects as opioid medications.

The researchers have been studying the venom of the cone snail Conus regius. In its unaltered form, the venom of the sea snail is fatal, but the researchers isolated a particular compound and discovered that it blocked a different pain pathway than the one targeted by opioid medications. As a result, the researchers believe the compound could be used to bring those in chronic pain long-lasting relief without the high risk of addiction that accompanies long-term opioid use.

In laboratory tests on rodents, the U of U researchers learned that the pain relief provided lasted for an extended period of time after the compound had been injected, with relief persisting even after the compound had left the body. Furthermore, the researchers believe that the compound may even be capable of repairing nerve damage, providing new hope for those individuals who are burdened with chronic pain.

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The Department of Defense (DoD) invested in the program through a grant provided by its Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP). The PRMRP has a stated goal of providing adequate healthcare treatment options to active military service members, veterans, and their family members. In this case, the alternative painkiller options the U of U program may provide would allow for soldiers who suffer from chronic pain to find relief without the risk of addiction brought by opioids.

If the researchers at the U of U are successful in their endeavor, those who struggle with chronic pain may be better able to find pain relief without the support provided by addiction recovery treatment.