Treating pain is a tricky business—especially when it comes to the chronic, perpetually debilitating type. 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 toxin's potential to kill localized pain—forever.
Just starting to be used in human trials, 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's off, leaving you 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 savior 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 the 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—even a very specific type of pain—has the potential to be highly problematic. But for those whose chronic pain is effectively crippling or even the terminally ill, this could turn out to be exactly the kind of relief they've been waiting for. [Scientific American]
Image: Shutterstock/Bartek Zyczynski