Boston Scientists Find New Way To Fight Pain

In the future, this system could potentially combat that by giving patients access to nonopioid, effective nerve-blocking drugs.

A team of scientists from the Boston Children’s Hospital reportedly designed a new device meant to replace orally administered pain relievers. According to them, their idea will help people treat pain in the body locally and without any invasive procedures.

Their findings were published last August 10 in the journal Nature Biomedical engineering. The scientists led by Dr. Daniel Kohane named their project “Ultrasound-Triggered Local Anesthesia.” They believe their invention could one day improve the lives of many people by permanently replacing addictive narcotics used as pain relievers.

“Opioid abuse is a growing problem in healthcare,” said Kohane. The doctor is a senior associate in critical care medicine at Boston Children’s. He also teaches at the Harvard Medical School on the subject of anesthesiology.

“In the future, this system could potentially combat that by giving patients access to nonopioid, effective nerve-blocking drugs.”

The study showcases a device that uses ultrasound waves to trigger nerve-blocking agents within the patient. The anesthesia is initially injected by doctors on specific sites where the pain is usually felt on the body before the procedure begins.

“One of the most interesting aspects of this system is that the degree of nerve block can be controlled just by adjusting the duration and intensity of the ultrasound,” said Alina Rwei, a graduate researcher in Dr. Kohane’s laboratory. “We envision that patients could get an injection at the hospital and then bring home a small, portable ultrasound device for triggering the nerve-blocking agent. This could allow patients to manage their pain relief at-will, noninvasively.”

The system involves tiny sacs that filled with nerve-blocking drugs; this is then injected into the patient through a syringe. Each sac is around a micrometer in diameter. The walls of this sac are composed of sono-sensitizers which are organic materials sensitive to ultrasound.

“Once the drug-filled liposomes are injected, ultrasound can be applied to penetrate tissue and cause the sensitizers to create reactive oxygen species, which react with lipids in the walls of the liposomes,” Dr. Kohane added. “This opens the surface of the liposomes and releases the nerve-blocking drug into the local tissue, reducing pain.”

“Out of all the particle delivery systems, I think liposomes are one of the most clinically acceptable and customizable options out there,” Ms. Rwei concluded. “Our research indicates that liposomes can be tailored to respond to near-infrared light, ultrasound, and even magnetic triggers.”

The need for alternative pain relief systems is amplified due to the increasing abuse rate of various narcotic drugs such as Tramadol. One of the side effects of long term use of Tramadol may result to addiction which can become a life long struggle for many patients.

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