New painkiller was born in Utah

December 29, 2004

The natural form of Prialt - a new drug for severe pain approved this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - was discovered at the University of Utah in 1979 by an incoming freshman studying toxins produced by cone snails.

The student, J. Michael McIntosh, worked in the laboratory of University of Utah biologist Baldomero "Toto" Olivera, the summer before his freshman year as the result of a scholarship interview.

Now, 25 years later, Olivera is a distinguished professor of biology who still studies cone snails and how substances in their venom may be developed into drugs, and McIntosh is a professor of psychiatry and research professor of biology at the university.

McIntosh says his experience as an 18-year-old working in Olivera's laboratory shows "the university provides a very unusual opportunity for undergraduate students to participate in cutting-edge research that can make a real difference."

Olivera says McIntosh first isolated and characterized the painkiller in the venom of the fish-hunting cone snail Conus magus, or magician's cone, which is about 1.5 inches long and thus too small to kill people it stings, as do some larger cone snails.

McIntosh discovered a component or "factor" in the venom affected the nervous system. He purified it and determined its chemical structure. Later, University of Utah biologist Doju Yoshikami determined the factor blocked the transmission of nerve signals through certain connections or synapses between nerve cells.

Olivera and Yoshikami developed the factor - named omega-MVIIA, or omega conotoxin M seven A - for use in basic research in neuroscience. "It blocks communication between nerve cells," allowing researchers to learn what nerve circuits do normally by seeing what goes wrong when the connections are blocked, Olivera says.

The university didn't patent omega-MVIIA because the substance "didn't have a definitive therapeutic use" at the time, he adds.

"As with many basic science discoveries, the clinical importance of the discovery wasn't appreciated at the time," McIntosh says.

Olivera and Yoshikami collaborated in basic research on omega-MVIIA with George Miljanich, who worked at the University of Southern California and later moved to Neurex Corp., where Miljanich explored the substance's therapeutic potential.

Neurex ultimately was acquired by Elan Corp., based in Dublin, Ireland. On Dec. 28, Elan got FDA approval to sell Prialt for chronic, intractable pain suffered by people with cancer, AIDS, injury, failed back surgery or certain nervous system disorders.

The drug is expected to be available in the United States in late January 2005. It is injected into fluid surrounding the spinal cord by external or implanted pumps.

"The commercial product, Prialt, is chemically identical to omega-MVIIA, except that it is made synthetically instead of by snails," Olivera says.

McIntosh now directs research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center, and treats adolescents and adults who have depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder (manic-depression) and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
-end-
University of Utah Public Relations
201 S Presidents Circle, Room 308
Salt Lake City, Utah 84112-9017
(801) 581-6773 fax: 585-3350
www.utah.edu/unews

University of Utah

Related Nervous System Articles from Brightsurf:

Chikungunya may affect central nervous system as well as joints and lungs
Investigation conducted by international group of researchers showed that chikungunya virus can cause neurological infections.

Glial cells play an active role in the nervous system
Researchers at M√ľnster University, Germany, have discovered that glial cells - one of the main components of the brain -not only control the speed of nerve conduction, but also influence the precision of signal transduction in the brain.

Protein produced by the nervous system may help treatments for inflammatory diseases
A Rutgers-led team discover a protein produced by nervous system may be key to treating inflammatory diseases like asthma, allergies, chronic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

COVID-19 may attack patients' central nervous system
''There may be more central nervous system penetration of the virus than we think based on the prevalence of olfaction-associated depressed mood and anxiety and this really opens up doors for future investigations to look at how the virus may interact with the central nervous system,'' explains Ahmad Sedaghat, MD, PhD.

Lifting weights makes your nervous system stronger, too
Gym-goers may get frustrated when they don't see results from weightlifting right away, but their efforts are not in vain: the first few weeks of training strengthen the nervous system, not muscles.

COVID-19 threatens the entire nervous system
A new review of neurological symptoms of COVID-19 patients in current scientific literature reveals the disease poses a global threat to the entire nervous system.

Fewer scars in the central nervous system
Researchers have discovered the influence of the coagulation factor fibrinogen on the damaged brain.

Polymerized estrogen shown to protect nervous system cells
In research published today in Nature Communications, an interdisciplinary team from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute demonstrated how estrogen -- a natural hormone produced in the body -- can be polymerized into a slow-releasing biomaterial and applied to nervous system cells to protect those cells and even promote regeneration.

Discovery concerning the nervous system overturns a previous theory
It appears that when our nervous system is developing, only the most viable neurons survive, while immature neurons are weeded out and die.

Autonomic nervous system appears to function well regardless of mode of childbirth
'In a low-risk group of babies born full-term, the autonomic nervous system and cortical systems appear to function well regardless of whether infants were exposed to labor prior to birth,' says Sarah B.

Read More: Nervous System News and Nervous System Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.