Some Poison for your Pain?

So I am pretty much a giant science nerd. I know this, and have an almost complete MSc thesis in Molecular Biology, in case you need further proof. Being a nerd, I just got so excited about an article that I read about how one of the most toxic biological substances can be used to treat chronic pain.

Proof that I am a science nerd!

Proof that I am a science nerd!

We all know how Botox can make old ladies look like, old ladies that have great poker faces right?

The ANC may argue that “Botox” makes you dance like an ape in Public, but there are far less vain uses of “Botox” that you may or may not know about. Botox is the neurotoxin derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Sounds almost like an STD right?

This neurtoxin, is one of the most dangerous known to man. Just a small cough medicine bottle’s worth, can poison an entire city’s water supply. Luckily its not being used in Bio-terrorism, for now. Not only this, but this particular bacteria forms spores, which makes them pretty tough to kill! This bacteria generally infects canned foods, causing botulism. This can result in paralysis and even be fatal. So……Why would people inject this into their face?

Well, to put it simply, if you dilute the isolated toxin down, A LOT, it can decrease the appearance of wrinkles, if you’re willing to accept the trade off of your face looking a little paralyzed. Most of us know this. Did you know that Botox can be used to help people who have problems with excessive sweating on their hands and feet? A little bit injected into the sweat glands, paralyses them, inhibiting the excessive production of sweat, which can be really embarrassing for sufferers.

This is all probably old news to you. They have been using botox as a biotherapy for a while, for a couple of ailments. This is all background to the interesting article that I have just read!


In a recent special issue (on Toxins) of the FEBS journal, authors (J. Oliver Dolly, Jiafu Wang, Thomas H. Zurawski and Jianghui Meng) from the International Centre for Neurotherapeutics, have been making headway into using botulinum toxin to treat pain.

Although there has been a lot of talk about using this toxin to treat pain, these treatments have not been long lasting. These researchers have basically combined two serotypes (there are seven) of the toxin that has been produced within recombinant Escherichia coli cells (this means they genetically modified bacteria that live in poo, by placing a section of DNA into them, so that they produce the serotypes of the toxin). The combination of these two serotypes into a composite, means they remain stable for longer, and can provide a more effective and long term means of chronic pain relief. This is great news for people that suffer from many ailments! It means less addictive pain tablets, less side effects, and a more direct way of treating pain. The toxin enters nerve endings, and basically chemically changes the proteins responsible for carrying the pain signal through to the brain, preventing them from even leaving the cell. Almost like localized leprosy!

Usually, scientists would have to culture the spore forming bacteria, extract the toxin, and then isolate the different serotypes. This is costly because they have to adhere to very strict regulations because this bacteria is so dangerous, and its a pretty exhaustive process. So by only forming the serotypes of interest within genetically engineered cells of bacteria that are not even close to being as dangerous, they are saving money, reducing risk, and helping millions of people. So when was the last time someone asked about your day, and you could say that! Scientists rock. They should be paid more, and be bigger celebrities that dumb girls who date famous guys. Just my opinion.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

I have oversimplified this, and so I highly recommend that you go and read the in depth journal article, if you are someone who is interested in Science. Its a very interesting read for Cell Biologists, and is very well explained.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s