A ‘super-Botox’ drug could revolutionize chronic pain treatment, possibly making painkillers obsolete. A single injection of the new Botox formula may treat arthritis and cancer without the side effects associated with pain medication for months at a time, providing the same pain-numbing effect of Botox without freezing the muscles.
Developed by Sheffield University’s Professor Bazbek Davletov at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, U.K., the new Botox drug derives from a combination of botulinum — a bacterial poison — and a similar poison — tetanospasmin — produced by the tetanus bug.
Botulinum, the main ingredient in Botox, is used to prevent wrinkles by disabling messages sent by nerve cells to contract with muscles (a process which forms wrinkles), according to the Mayo Clinic. Botulinum and tetanospasmin, combined, carry the pain reliever to the spinal cord to stop pain signals from being sent to the brain.
The mix of these two poisons aims to ease fears that the new Botox injection will paralyze the area being treated. With the administration of just Botox, patients fear that the injection will paralyze the area that is being treated, which is why it has been prevented from widely being used for pain relief.
“In effect, we engineer pain relief by taking only good parts of toxic molecules," Professor Davletov told the Daily Mail. “Currently painkillers relieve lingering pain only temporarily and often have unwanted side-effects. An injection of this new molecule at the site of pain could potentially relieve pain for many months.”
Arthritis and cancer patients are most likely to benefit from the new Botox injection. Currently, painkillers used to treat the conditions are associated with detrimental side effects that can further complicate the patient’s state.
Morphine — a painkiller prescribed to cancer patients to treat moderate to severe pain — binds to opioid receptors in the brain and central nervous system (CNS) to reduce the perception of pain and the emotional response to pain, according to the American Cancer Society. The side effects of the painkiller include confusion, fainting, loss of appetite, and nausea or vomiting.
Common drugs to treat arthritis, such as ibuprofen, may increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke in patients. The Mayo Clinic says that the risk tends to be the most significant if the patient already has high blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease.
Migraine sufferers may also benefit from the release of this injection on the market. Currently, chronic migraine patients are eligible to receive treatment with Botox since the drug blocks the transmission of pain signals to the brain. However, sufferers are afraid that the current Botox injection could paralyze their face and often dismiss this form of treatment.