Oxytocin hormone is known for its ability to enhance social interactions including maternal behaviour, partnership and bonding.

Researchers, led by the University of Queensland's Professor Paul Alewood and the University of Adelaide's Dr Stuart Brierley, said the molecule they had developed – a version of oxytocin with improved stability – showed significant potential in alleviating abdominal pain.

"It can potentially survive in the digestive tract until it reaches the gut," Alewood said.

"This molecule acts on oxytocin nerve receptors in the bowel, which display increased sensitivity in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome," he said.

Alewood said it had no effect on healthy gut tissue, which was an important advantage in drug development where minimising side effects is crucial.

Chronic abdominal pain is a major health problem, with irritable bowel syndrome alone affecting around 11 percent of the Western population.

Despite the high number of sufferers, there are currently no drugs that directly treat abdominal pain.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.


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