A compound that gives red, hot chillies their sparkle has been used to develop an anesthetic that might relieve you from pain without numbness or paralysis.
A combination of the compound 'capsaicin' and a local anesthetic called QX-314 may help reduce the trauma of labour pains, surgery and root canal and can treat chronic itching, say researchers in a study in science journal Nature.
Rats given an injection of the 'capsaicin' and QX-314 were able to tolerate more heat than usual, while moving around normally, Nature reports. The injection blocked pain for several hours while the rodents continued to move normally and react to touch.
What it does, say researchers, is to stop pain-sensing nerve cells from functioning, without disturbing other neurons that control movement and other sensations. The combination of 'capsaicin' and QX- 314 functions by preventing pain-sensing neurons from sending signals in the brain that make a person feel pain.
QX-314 is derived from Lidocaine, an anesthetic that blocks electric currents in nerve cells. On its own, QX-314 cannot enter neurons; 'capsaicin' helps it do so by opening pores in cell membranes. Once QX-314 passes through the membranes, it effectively blocks the pain messages to the brain.
This is not the first time that 'capsaicin' has proved a boon for the researchers. The chemical, which is also found in pepper sprays, has been shown to make cancer cells self-destruct. It also prevents and heals stomach ulcers and has anti-inflammatory properties, which shows promise as a new treatment for arthritis.
Chilli also speeds up metabolism, aiding weight loss. Its usefulness as an effective anesthetic, however, has been unknown. Dr Story Landis of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which funded the study, said: "The Holy Grail in pain science is to eliminate pathologic pain without impairing thinking, alertness, coordination or other vital functions of the nervous system."
Before the technique can be tested on humans, scientists must find a way of using capsaicin without producing a temporary burning pain.