A revolutionary single injection that delivers DNA to cells could be a new way to address all types of chronic pain.
The injection, which is now in clinical trials for conditions such as osteoarthritis (wear and tear damage, meaning bones rub against each other), instructs cells to ramp up production of an important natural protein, IL-10, which has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. .
Chronic pain – where the pain persists for more than 12 weeks despite treatment – affects about one in five adults.
Despite decades of research, chronic pain is still poorly understood and difficult to manage.
A study from the American Academy of Pain Medicine found that treatment with prescription pain-relieving drugs helps about 58 percent of patients on average.
These drugs can also have side effects, such as constipation, nausea, and drowsiness.
There is also a risk of addiction with some drugs, such as potent opioids.
The injection, which is now in clinical trials for conditions such as osteoarthritis (wear and tear damage, meaning bones rub against each other), instructs cells to ramp up production of an important natural protein, IL-10, which has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. . [File photo]
The conventional thinking is that nerve cells called neurons are the key to the pain messenger system, so most drugs target these cells.
The ineffectiveness of the standard treatment has led researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder in the US, who are behind the new injection, to suggest that other cells called glial cells may be a cause.
Found in the brain and spinal cord, these immune cells are heavily involved in the response to disease and infection. For example, they hurt us when we are sick and produce compounds that increase or decrease inflammation.
Usually, once an injury or disease is resolved, glial cells make the IL-10 protein to dampen inflammation. (This inflammation usually causes pain because the swelling presses against nerve endings.)
But in cases of chronic pain, this mechanism is thought to be somehow stuck and not enough anti-inflammatory IL-10 being produced.
The new injection, known as XT-150, delivers DNA in saline to cells and instructs them to increase IL-10 production.
It is injected into the fluid-filled space around the spinal cord or, in the case of osteoarthritis, around the inflamed joint.
Because the treatment is topical and triggers the body’s own anti-inflammatory and analgesic response, it doesn’t cause the myriad of side effects associated with opioids, for example – and the benefits can last for many months from a single injection.
“Our IL-10 gene therapy supplies the cells in the osteoarthritis joint, for example, with the recipe to make it more efficient and effective,” said Professor Linda Watkins, a neuroscientist who designed the shot. It is now being developed by her company, Xalud Therapeutics.
The new injection, known as XT-150, delivers DNA in saline to cells and instructs them to increase IL-10 production [File photo]
Animal studies have shown it to be highly effective, with the material remaining in the joint tissue for at least six months after one injection.
A new animal study in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity revealed that the drop in pain levels was three times greater after the shot compared to a placebo.
Six studies are now underway involving hundreds of patients with osteoarthritis in the US and Australia.
The company is also planning studies on back pain, peripheral nerve pain and pain caused by multiple sclerosis.
Commenting on the approach, Professor Sam Eldabe, a consultant in anesthesia and pain medicine at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, said: ‘The treatment of patients with chronic inflammatory conditions remains a major unmet need.
“If this new shot is proven to be safe and effective, that would be a very exciting development in the pain world.
“It is often administered via spinal injection, which is a complex method that requires inpatient care.”
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High-tech printer used to restore facial features
New ears and noses will be ‘printed’ in a Swansea University lab as part of a £2.5 million facial reconstruction project.
One in 100 people in the UK could benefit from the study, which will use ‘bioink’ to 3D print replacements for noses and ears that are missing since birth or damaged by illness or accident.
The ‘ink’ will be made from cells grown in large numbers in the lab from a small piece of cartilage from the patient’s nose.
It is hoped that the lab-built versions will be more natural than existing prosthetics and result in fewer scars, says the Scar Free Foundation, one of the funders of the three-year project.
The sweat test that checks blood sugars
Could examining sweat soon replace the finger prick tests that people with diabetes use to check their blood sugar?
A device developed by researchers at the University of California in the US that monitors sugar levels in sweat has proven to be very accurate.
Sweat, like blood, carries sugar. The new technology, which works in just a minute, consists of a flexible plastic strip with a ‘sensor’ surface that is placed on the fingertip; the sugar in the sweat responds to the sensor and produces an electrical current that is converted into a glucose reading.
The device is more than 95 percent accurate at predicting blood glucose levels, reports the journal ACS Sensors.