Combining a protein from a Mediterranean plant with the potent neurotoxin Botox could produce an effective treatment for the chronic pain experienced by millions of people, according to research reported in the recent issue of New Scientist.
Botox, or botulinum toxin, is becoming increasingly known for its use in smoothing out wrinkles and making skin look younger. But the compound, the most potent neurotoxin around, is also used to treat an increasing range of medical conditions.
Botox blocks the release of the neurotransmitters that relay the message from nerves to muscles to contract. The toxin only affects the neurons that control muscles because of a targeting sequence in the toxin that only permits it to bind to muscle cells, explains the report.
A team at the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research in the UK, led by Keith Foster, searched for a targeting sequence specific to the nerves that transmit pain signals and found it in the Mediterranean coral tree, Erythrina cristagalli.
The coral tree protein binds to the surface of pain neurons and no other cells, creating an altered toxin that stops pain without affecting any other types of sensation, reports New Scientist.
Presenting the findings at a Society for General Microbiology meeting in Edinburgh last week, the researchers said that in experiments on mice, the painkiller performed as well as morphine at preventing pain, and most importantly, it was still working nine days later, where morphine would have worn off after four hours.
The team is now preparing for initial trials of the drug, which would be initially used to treat cancer sufferers or patients recovering from surgery, continued the report. The authors add that adding different targeting sequences could lead to all sorts of other applications.