Friday, November 12, 1999 Published at 05:37 GMT
Gel improves circulation disorder
Reynaud's Syndrome affects the hands
People who suffer from the circulatory disorder Raynaud's syndrome may benefit from a gel that helps to increase blood flow.
The gel is applied to the skin and acts by widening blood vessels, alleviating the extreme cold which some sufferers experience.
Raynaud's syndrome, or cold hands syndrome, can cause pain, disability and skin damage. In rare cases it can lead to a reduced blood supply to the heart.
More usually symptoms are mild and involve poor circulation to the fingers and toes. This can be caused by cold or stress.
Raynaud's syndrome is linked to connective tissue diseases, such as scleroderma, and some cases are genetically inherited.
The condition affects up five per cent of adults, and is ten times more common among women.
Drugs have side effects
The condition is treatable with drugs called calcium channel blockers.
But these drugs have some side-effects and the effectiveness of all treatments varied.
In a trial, reported in The Lancet, involving 20 patients with Raynaud's syndrome, and 10 healthy patients, researchers applied a specially-formulated gel to the affected areas.
They found that in the forearm, blood flow increased significantly after application of the active gel both in the patients with Raynaud's syndrome and those without the condition.
In the fingers, although blood flow was lower in patients with the condition, both groups showed an increase after application of the gel.
The key to the treatment is nitric oxide, which is known as a very effective vasodilator (an agent which widens blood vessels).
Although the cause of Raynaud's syndrome is not entirely clear, one possible explanation is a defect in the body's ability to produce nitric oxide.
The nitric-oxide generating gel was prepared by combining a solution of KY jelly and sodium nitrite with a solution of KY jelly and ascorbic acid.
Around 0.5 ml of each solution was separetely applied to the skin of the forearm and then mixed with a sterile cotton bud.
One of the researchers, Professor Nigel Benjamin, of the clinical pharmacology department, at St Bartholomew's and Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, said further work would be needed before it could be produced in a prescribable form.
"We have established that if we apply this gel to the skin, we raise the level of nitric oxide being produced, in patients where we konw th blood flow is reduced," he told News Online.
"We now need some form of delivery system, such as a glove, for everyday use, and we will be trying to develop that."