Treating pain is a tricky business — especially when it comes to the chronic, perpetually debilitating kind. For things like back injuries, osteoarthritis, and bone cancer, you're really only left with two options: deal with the often dangerous, unpredictable side-effects of prescription painkillers or suffer through it. But all that might change soon thanks to a Moroccan "cactuslike plant" and its toxins potential to kill localised pain — forever.
Just now beginning to be tested in humans, the painkiller, a toxin called resiniferatoxin (RTX), would work by going directly to the source of pain itself — your body's neurons. The specific neurons targeted by the compound produce a protein called TRPV1. And this protein is what travels up your spinal column to tell your brain that something is wrong with that very unpleasant inflammatory sensation. When RTX is injected into the spinal fluid, though, those specific TRPV1-producing neurons get killed dead while normal tissue and other pain-sensing nerves get passed by, totally unharmed.
Though human trials for the potential saviour of the chronically pained are just beginning, tests on dogs (who experience pain very similarly to humans) have been highly promising. And David Maine, director at the Center for Interventional Pain Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, is highly optimistic about new method:
When you can streamline where a drug acts and avoid consequences outside of that, you potentially have a winner.
Obviously, the inability to feel pain in the longterm — ever a very specific type of pain — could carry some problematic consequences. But particularly for those whose chronic pain is effectively crippling and even the terminally ill, this could turn out to be exactly the kind of relief they've been waiting for. [Scientific American]
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