Oct. 3, 2007 -- A new hot-chili-pepper-based anesthetic may offer better pain relief during childbirth, surgery, or other painful situations than conventional anesthetics.
Preliminary tests of the anesthetic in rats show it effectively blocked pain without causing complete loss of movement in the targeted areas.
Researchers say the experimental anesthetic works by selectively blocking pain-sensing nerve cells without disrupting other nerve cells that control movement or nonpainful sensations. If the results are confirmed in humans, the method could be used in procedures ranging from knee surgery to tooth extractions.
"Eventually this method could completely transform surgical and post-surgical analgesia, allowing patients to remain fully alert without experiencing pain or paralysis," says researcher Clifford Woolf of Massachusetts General Hospital in a news release. "In fact, the possibilities seem endless. I could even imagine using this method to treat itch, as itch-sensitive neurons fall into the same group as pain-sensing ones."
Researchers say that although current anesthetics are highly effective, they also come with significant side effects, such as unconsciousness in the case of general anesthetics and temporary loss of sensation or paralysis in local anesthetics.
Hot Pepper Kills Pain
They injected the chemicals into the paws of rats and measured their ability to sense pain from a heat source. The animals were able to tolerate much more heat than usual.
Then, they tried injecting the anesthetic near the sciatic nerve of the rats and pricked their paws with nylon probes. The animals seemed to ignore the painful prick, but continued to move normally and responded to other stimuli.