Stories about: anesthetics

Safety trial of algal anesthetic kicks off

Green algae
Algae similar to these could be the source of a powerful local anesthetic. (Micropix/Wikimedia Commons)

Two years ago, we told the story of the quest of Charles Berde, MD, PhD, of Boston Children’s Division of Pain Medicine, to turn an algal toxin called neosaxitoxin into a long-lasting local anesthetic.

At that time, Berde—together with Alberto Rodríguez-Navarro, MD, from Padre Hurtado Hospital in Santiago, Chile, and a Chilean company called Proteus SA—already knew that neosaxitoxin, a site 1 sodium channel blocker which in nature is produced by algal blooms, could help patients who had undergone laproscopic surgery recover more quickly and experience less pain compared with the current state -of-the-art local anesthetic called bupivacaine.

The group has now taken a big leap forward. In May, they launched a Phase 1 clinical trial at Boston Children’s in healthy male patients, aimed at showing that neosaxitoxin produced by Proteus from bioreactor-grown algae is safe using clinically relevant doses.

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With algae blooms hope for a long-acting local anesthetic

For decades, Chile’s shoreline has had problems with periodic algal blooms – referred to as Red Tide, but actually containing a mix of microorganisms including bluegreen algae. Their toxins accumulate in shellfish, landing seafood consumers in the hospital, partially paralyzed, sometimes needing ventilators to breathe.

The nerve block caused by the toxins is reversible, so most people fully recover, but it’s led to repeated bans on shellfish harvest, consumption and sale. Out of public health and economic concerns, Chilean scientists have built up an expertise in monitoring coastal waters and isolating and purifying the toxins.

But some scientists, like Alberto Rodríguez-Navarro, also a physician at Padre Hurtado Hospital in Santiago, saw pharmacologic potential. “We wondered what we could do with these compounds,” he says.

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