Stories about: nerve blockade

DIY pain relief with light-activated local nerve blocks

light-activated liposomes
Injected, gold-coated liposomes could release painkillers on demand when heated with NIR light. (Shutterstock)

You’ve just had a root canal or knee surgery — both situations that will likely require some sort of local pain medication. But instead of taking a systemic narcotic with all its side effects, what if you could medicate only the part of your body that hurts, only when needed and only as much as necessary?

That concept is today’s reality in the laboratory of Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and a senior associate in pediatric critical care at Boston Children’s Hospital.

The Kohane laboratory is developing a patient-triggered drug delivery system — but not a simple time-release mechanism or one tethered to ports or pumps. Instead, around the time of an intervention, pain medication would be injected into the site, or around a nerve leading to that site. Whenever pain relief is needed, the patient triggers release of the drug with a laser-like light-emitting device. “It’s like carrying the pharmacy in your body,” explains Kohane.

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Mounting a lasting blockade against pain

Saxitoxin produced by dinoflagellates (above), algae and shellfish could help stop neuropathic pain before it starts. (fickleandfreckled/Flickr)

A cut, a bruise, a scrape…these can all cause pain that, while unpleasant, usually passes quickly. But for an estimated 3.75 million children and adults in the United States with neuropathic pain, the pain is debilitating and never goes away.

Caused by diabetes, shingles, nerve trauma, cancer and other conditions, neuropathic pain is basically a sign that someone’s nervous system has lost track of what should and shouldn’t cause pain.

There are ways to treat or control neuropathic pain, like lifestyle changes and a range of medications, but they don’t target it at its source. Boston Children’s Hospital’s Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, wants to do just that: to go for the root of neuropathic pain, maybe even stop it before it starts. And he’s doing it with microscopic beads full of a neurotoxin found in shellfish. 

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