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Nettle could take the sting out of pain

A research team want to study as many nettles as possible so they can find treatments for chronic pain.

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Nettle extract in bottle and fresh nettle leaves.Stinging nettles
(Chatham172 via Shutterstock)

By Gwyn Wright via SWNS

A species of nettle could take the sting out of pain, according to new research.

The tree nettle ongaonga is one of New Zealand's most poisonous native plants and can cause stings that last days.

But its toxins may hold clues to help create new pain relief medications, say scientists.

They explained that understanding different pain pathways in trees is the key to finding new ways to treat pain.

The team had previously examined the stings of the Australian gympie-gympie stinging tree but found the Kiwi trees’ toxins activate pain receptors in a new way.

Study author Dr. Sam Robinson, of the University of Queensland in Australia, said: “We discovered that the New Zealand nettle tree toxins target the same receptor as their Australian counterparts, but they cause pain in a different way.

“The Australian stinging tree and New Zealand tree nettle are both members of the nettle family, but separated millions of years ago and have evolved differently.

“The New Zealand tree nettle can grow up to four metres tall and its leaves and stems are covered with stinging hairs that pierce the skin and deliver venom which causes long-lasting pain.”

Fossil remains show an extinct bird called the Moa used to enjoy eating the tree nettle and its strong toxins likely evolved to kill off the creature.

Professor Irina Vetter, director of the university’s Center for Pain Research added: “Animal venoms have been studied for decades but plants have evolved toxins differently, and this gives us a chance to find molecules that work in a unique way.

“Our goal is to tackle pain more effectively without side effects and addiction.”

During the study period, tough travel bans affected how the team could do their work but they managed to source seeds from the New Zealand tree nettle and grow it in a lab.

The team want to study as many nettles as possible so they can find treatments for chronic pain.

Researcher Dr. Edward Gilding now plans to visit Vietnam to study “anything that stings” and wants to go to Madagascar and South America soon to widen the net.

He said: “There are several hundred nettles in the Urticaceae family with stinging hairs around the world — we’re keen to compare how they have evolved and whether they all use the same toxins.”

The findings were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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