Opiorphin is an endogenous chemical compound first isolated from human saliva. Initial research with mice shows the compound has a painkilling effect greater than that of morphine.
Saliva from humans has yielded a natural painkiller up to six times more powerful than morphine, researchers say.
The substance, dubbed opiorphin, may spawn a new generation of natural painkillers that relieve pain as well as morphine but without the addictive and psychological side effects of the traditional drug.
When the researchers injected a pain-inducing chemical into rats’ paws, 1 milligram of opiorphin per kilogram of body weight achieved the same painkilling effect as 3 milligrams of morphine.
The substance was so successful at blocking pain that, in a test involving a platform of upended pins, the rats needed six times as much morphine as opiorphin to render them oblivious to the pain of standing on the needle points.
Opiorphin is such a simple molecule that it should be possible to synthesize it and produce large quantities without having to isolate it from saliva, Rougeot explains. Alternatively, it might be possible to find drugs that trigger patients’ bodies to produce more of the molecule themselves.