Chili-Based Anaesthetic Kills Pain, But Not Your Other Senses
October 25, 2007
Conventional local anesthetics affect all nerve cells, causing numbness or temporary paralysis, but a chemical from chili peppers may be your key to killing pain without affecting touch or movement.
The Harvard research team found a way to use an outdated variation (QX-314) of a standard anesthesia in combination with capsaicin, the chili pepper chemical that gives the pepper its distinctive “hotness,” to completely shut down pain, with no apparent numbness or paralysis in experiments on rats.
QX-314 is a lidocaine derivative invented in the 1940’s that failed because it couldn’t penetrate cell membranes to block pain. Capsaicin, on the other hand, does just that – it penetrates the cell wall of pain receptor neurons only, leaving all other nerve cells unaffected.
It has not yet been tested on humans, however scientists are excited about its potentially endless uses, from childbirth epidurals, to dental work, to surgery, and chronic pain management.
Pain management, however, involves more than just suppression of physical agony. Said Dr. Doria Cope, director of pain medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, “Pain management isn’t only about neurons. Emotions, stress, and psychology are all part of an enormous, highly complex jigsaw puzzle of addressing pain.”
Nature October 4, 2007; 449(7162):607-10
The Boston Globe October 4, 2007
BBC News October 3, 2007