Pain researchers who are looking for new drugs to treat and manage pain often look to nature for new compounds. Yesterday, I wrote about a promising new pain medication found in centipede venom. Once we find a useful natural product, we attempt to synthesize it in the lab. However, here’s a case where the opposite happened. Scientists had first created a synthetic pain-killer called tramadol (a modification of morphine) and later discovered that this same compound already exists in the wild.
Photo by Scott Zona, 7/15/2009
The N. latifolia version of tramadol was not only just as effective as the synthetic version in relieving pain (tested on poor little mice), but was also found in considerable concentrations (up to 4%) within the root bark. Taken together, it's no wonder the plant has long been used as a medicine by indigenous peoples.
Boumendjel, A., Sotoing Taïwe, G., Ngo Bum, E., Chabrol, T., Beney, C., Sinniger, V., Haudecoeur, R., Marcourt, L., Challal, S., Ferreira Queiroz, E., Souard, F., Le Borgne, M., Lomberget, T., Depaulis, A., Lavaud, C., Robins, R., Wolfender, J.-L., Bonaz, B. and De Waard, M. (2013), Occurrence of the Synthetic Analgesic Tramadol in an African Medicinal Plant . Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.. doi: 10.1002/anie.201305697.