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    U.S. Researchers Develop Slow-Release Nerve Block

    By Jennifer Huddleston, staff writer     

    Researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston in Boston, Massachusetts, have created a new, extended-release injectable nerve block that could provide long-lasting pain relief during and after surgery as well as for patients suffering from chronic pain.

    The researchers, led by the study’s senior author Daniel Kohane, M.D., Ph.D., packaged saxitoxin, a powerful painkiller, into liposomes, specially designed fat-based particles, which prevented pain without causing nerve or muscle cell damage when tested in rats.

    The most effective liposomes in the study created nerve blocks that lasted two days when they contained only saxitoxin and seven days when they contained a mixture of saxitoxin and dexamethasone, a steroid that supplements the packaged anesthetic.

    “The idea was to have a single injection that could produce a nerve block lasting days, weeks, maybe even months,” said Kohane, of the division of critical care medicine in the department of anesthesiology at Children’s Hospital Boston. “It would be useful for conditions like chronic pain where, rather than use narcotics, which are systemic and pose a risk of addiction, you could just put that piece of the body to sleep, so to speak.”

    Prior work toward slow-release anesthetics failed because typical anesthetic drugs tend to produce toxicity in surrounding tissue. Cell culture experiments and tissue analysis during the study verified that the liposomes containing saxitoxin with or without dexamethasone did not cause toxicity in nerve or muscle cells.

    “If these long-lasting, low-toxicity formulations of local anesthetics are shown to be effective in humans, they could have a major impact on the treatment of acute and chronic pain,” said Alison Cole, Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which partially funded the research. “This slow-release technology may also have broader applications in drug delivery for the treatment of a variety of diseases.”

    Kahone and his team of researchers are currently working to improve the formulation to increase the length of its effectiveness without sacrificing safety.

    “It’s conceivable we could have a formulation that is suitable for clinical trials before too long,” said Kahone.

    The findings of the study are published online in the April 13, 2009, edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    [1] “Long-Lasting Nerve Block Could Change Pain Management.” Children’s Hospital Boston Press Release. April 13, 2009.
    [2]  Ibid.
    [3] Ibid.

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