A modified form of Botox – the cosmetic procedure popular with A-list celebrities – could soon be used to give long-term pain relief to patients with nerve injuries, scientists say.
Around seven in every 100 people in the UK suffer from chronic nerve pain, experts estimate, but current treatments are limited due to dangerous side effects.
Scientists say they may have found a solution by modifying a protein used in Botox.
Botox is the brand name of a muscle relaxant that is injected into the face in small doses to smooth out lines and wrinkles.
The relaxant used in the injections is a protein made from Botulinum toxin, which is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.
However, Botulinum toxin is dangerous in large quantities and can temporarily paralyse muscles.
Researchers in the UK and the US say they have engineered Botox to provide pain relief without inducing paralysis or producing adverse side effects.
They believe it could help provide relief for those who find chronic pain hard to manage.
The research, which has not yet been tested on humans, has been published in the journal Life Science Alliance.
One of those involved in the research, Dr Maria Maiaru, from the University of Reading, said: “These new Botulinum molecules are effective in reducing pain-like behaviour in models of human pain.
“We believe that this approach could open the way for the development of pain treatment to improve the quality of life of millions of people living with chronic pain.”
Current drugs used for pain relief for nerve injuries include morphine and fentanyl.
But they can only be used for short-term pain relief due to the risk of addiction, abuse, and overdose associated with long-term use.
However, researchers behind the modified Botox said when tested on rats, the protein was found to be non-toxic and did not cause paralysis.
The treatment could be effective for up to five months, according to researchers.
Professor Bazbek Davletov, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Biosciences, who led the study, said: “A single injection of the new nonparalytic blocker at the site of pain could potentially relieve pain for many months in humans and this now needs to be tested.
“We hope that the engineered drug could improve the quality of life for the millions of people worldwide who suffer from chronic pain.”
The research, funded by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC), was carried out by scientists from the Universities of Sheffield and Reading, University College London (UCL), and US-based biopharmaceutical start-up company Neuresta.
Neuresta is now working on tailoring nerve blockers to different neurological conditions using the technique.