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Thursday, 18 November, 1999, 19:41 GMT
New treatment may relieve chronic pain
Potential new treatment for severe pain trialed in rats

A technique successfully trailed on rats could lead to new treatments to reduce chronic pain in humans.

Scientists have succeeded in selectively destroying nerve cells in the spinal cords of rats making them less sensitive to the stimuli that cause pain.

It is thought the method would at present be limited to stopping extreme pain in the terminally ill, but it is now hoped to develop a less severe version which could be effective for other patients.

Spinal cord injection

Patrick Mantyh and his team at the University of Minnesota combined a powerful neurotoxin, which kills cells in the nervous system, with a chemical responsible for transmitting pain messages to the brain and injected this into the spinal cord.

The loss of sensitivity in the rats appeared to be permanent and Dr Mantyh, whose report is published in the journal Science, believes there would be less side effects than with the use of traditional drugs or surgery.

"We were able to administer a potential treatment and specifically channel it to certain cells, disabling them. We can now focus on the biology of these cells and look at new ways of silencing them in other types of persistent pain," he said.

Exciting

Dr Beverly Collett, honorary secretary of the Pain Society, said: "This sounds very exciting. It certainly sounds feasible and it is a fairly unique way of looking at the treatment of pain."

There was a need to find new treatments as one in fourteen of the UK population was estimated to suffer from chronic pain, she said.

Dr Andrew Bamji, a consultant rheumatologist at St Mary's Hospital in Sidcup, Kent, said the next step would be to try the technique on terminally ill patients.

But it would be some time before the technique could be adopted for treatment of humans. Other specialists questioned whether the success in rats could be transferred.

One consultant anaesthetist said there was no evidence that animals have the same perception of pain as humans.


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