By: 20 December 2012

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The venom of the African native black mamba, has been shown to have pain-killing properties that rival morphine and present fewer side effects, say researchers in France.

This new research, published in Nature, shows that mice experience a similar strength of analgesia from the mambalgin proteins in the venom of the black mamba as with morphine, but the mambalgins reduce pain in a different way to morphine, and therefore do not cause most of the side effects.

Morphine is an opioid, affecting receptors in the cell membranes. Aside from the desirable analgesic effect it has on the nervous tissue, it can cause side effects, including nausea, headaches, vomiting, muscle twitching, difficulty thinking and most alarmingly, respiratory depression.

Dr Eric Lingueglia, from the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology, near Nice, one of the authors of the study, explained that pain works similarly in mice as it does in humans, and the research could lead to the development of a painkiller that could be used in clinics.

The venom’s mambalgins have been tested on human cells, showing a similar chemical effect as was observed in the mice subjects.

Dr Lingueglia cautioned, however, that this is merely a first stage in the research and a lot more work needs to be carried out to know for sure if this painkiller can be used in humans.

The black mamba is the fastest snake in the world and Africa’s longest venomous snake. It gets its name from the colour of the inside of its mouth.