The black mamba snake is terrifying. It can grow to nearly 14.8 feet, or 4.5 meters, and lift a third of its body off the ground, placing its face nearly at eye level with a fully grown man. It can move at 12.5 miles an hour, or 20 kilometers an hour, possibly making it the fastest land snake in the world. Its venom can paralyze and kill small animals in minutes.
The black mamba, and its venom, is not the most obvious choice for a painkiller.
But a team of French researchers found in its venom just that. Led by Sylvie Diochot and Anne Baron, the team found two proteins in the snake's venom that can kill pain swiftly. The researchers call the protein "mambalgins", and scientists are calling the protein more effective than morphine. Better still; the painkiller does not hold the same side effects that opiates can cause, like increased tolerance, slowed breathing, vomiting, muscle twitching and difficulty thinking.
Mambalgins apparently tackle pain through a different route than morphine takes, so the side effects should not be as bad as with morphine, if any side effects exist at all. When the protein was tested on mice, they were able withstand hot water on their tails and paws for twice the length that untreated mice could. And, because the mechanisms for pain work similarly in humans and mice, researchers have hope that the effect of the venom could be the same in humans.
It is not the first time that venom has been shown to help. Indeed, Prialt, or ziconotide, is currently on the market, and it was modeled from the venom of the cone snail. Venom proteins from sea anemones, spiders, and scorpions have also been shown to have health benefits, providing treatment for conditions and disease as diverse as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and cardiovascular illnesses.
Researchers do not know why venom protein of the black mamba has such an effect, but they believe that it may help prevent prey from escaping. Some suggest that it may affect different animals in different ways as well.
The team's findings were published in the journal Nature.