A new study conducted by a group of Australian researchers has discovered that a rare, unique fungus found in Tasmania, which produces novel molecules, has similar activity to opioids.
The researchers suggest that this rare molecule could have similar pain-killing properties to opioids that are known to have dangerous side effects.
The study was published in the journal called the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The unique fungus was discovered in Tasmania more than 16 years ago, which can produce three types of tetrapeptides, the compounds that look similar to the molecules influencing opioid receptors in the body.
Senior study author and professor at the University of Sydney Dr. Macdonald Christie said, “No one had ever pulled anything out of nature, anything more ancient than a vertebrate that seemed to act on opiate receptors – and we found it.”
The researchers designed a new molecule known as bilorphin from the fungus, which is expected to have similar analgesic properties to drugs such as opioids or morphine. They also found that the new molecule does not cause dangerous side effects.
The new molecule and morphine were found to be equally effective in mice. However, the researchers said the safety or efficacy of the new analgesic in humans is unknown.
Dr. Christie and his colleagues are hopeful that this new molecule could be successful in human trials. He explained that it is important to determine the benefits of the newly developed molecule in order to address the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States. “If this proves successful and leads to a new medication, it will significantly reduce the risk of death by overdose from opioid medications such as codeine,” said Dr. Christie.