A modified type of botulinum toxin — botox — gave mice long-term pain relief and may someday be a safer alternative to opioids as a treatment for chronic pain, according to British researchers.
They “deconstructed” the botulinum molecule and reassembled it with an opioid called dermorphin. The resulting compound — called Derm-BOT — silenced pain signals from neurons in the spinal cords of mice.
But it isn’t yet known whether the compound would produce the same results in people. Results of animal studies often aren’t the same in humans.
“Injected into the spine, Derm-BOT relieves chronic pain — such as that caused by nerve damage — and avoids the adverse events of tolerance and addiction often associated with repeated opioid drug use,” said study co-corresponding author Steve Hunt. He’s a professor in the department of cell and developmental biology at University College London.
“It doesn’t affect muscles like the botulinum toxin used to reduce wrinkles but it does block nerve pain for up to four months without affecting normal pain responses. It really could revolutionize how chronic pain is treated if we can translate it into clinic, removing the need for daily opioid intake,” Hunt said in a university news release.
The study was published July 18 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The United States is in the throes of an opioid overdose epidemic. More than 2 million people are addicted to opioids, and most of them started with prescribed opioid painkillers. Opioid overdose is now a leading cause of death.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on pain medicines.