London - Botox, best known for smoothing out wrinkles, could also help soothe the pain of cancer, arthritis and migraines – without any side effects.
Sufferers of chronic back pain and women who have given birth by Caesarean section could also benefit from the “super-Botox” jab.
A single injection could provide pain relief for months – removing the need for patients to take several daily doses of powerful tablets – and it could be injected into any part of the body.
Charities said the drug, invented by a researcher at Sheffield University, could revolutionise the treatment of pain.
The main ingredient of the Botox used to prevent wrinkles is a bacterial poison known as botulinum.
It works by preventing nerve cells from talking to muscles, which in turn stops muscles moving and wrinkles developing.
It can also stop pain signals from being transmitted for months at a time.
However, fears that it will paralyse the area being treated have prevented it from being widely used for pain relief.
To get round this, Sheffield University researcher Professor Bazbek Davletov took the pain-relieving part of Botox and “stapled” it to a friendly part of a similar poison produced by the tetanus bug.
The tetanus toxin ferries the pain-reliever to the spinal cord, where it stops pain signals being sent to the brain.
The professor said: “In effect, we engineer pain relief by taking only good parts of toxic molecules.”
Animal trials have had encouraging results and, if large-scale trials on people are successful, the drug could be on the market in as little as three years.
Professor Davletov designed the drug while working at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.
He said: “Currently painkillers relieve lingering pain only temporarily and often have unwanted side-effects. An injection of this new molecule at the site of pain could potentially relieve pain for many months.”
And he added that a public which is willing to have injections for cosmetic purposes would not be squeamish about receiving medicine in the same way.
Migraine sufferers are likely to be the first to benefit.
Normal Botox can already be used as a treatment for crippling headaches, but fears that it will paralyse the face mean that many sufferers miss out. Cancer patients would also be high on the list as the side-effects of powerful painkillers such as morphine can be unbearable.
Drugs widely used to ease the pain of arthritis can raise the risk of heart attacks and around one in five people who have a major operation are left in pain for several years.
Professor Davletov, who reports his research in the journal Bioconjugate Chemistry, hopes the drug will cost around £1 000 (about R16 000) a year, making it cheap enough for use on the NHS.
Martin Ledwick, of Cancer Research UK, said: “Alongside developing new treatments for cancer, finding new and better ways of controlling pain is very important.
“If this new approach proves to be effective and have fewer side effects, it has the potential to be extremely useful to cancer patients and others with chronic pain.”
Dr Fayyaz Ahmed, a neurologist, is a trustee for charity The Migraine Trust and chairman of the British Association for the Study of Headache.
He said: “This sounds interesting and innovative, and if successful in what it is meant to achieve may revolutionise the way we currently treat pain and other neurological disorders.”
Many A-list celebrities, including Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Aniston, Cindy Crawford and Dannii Minogue, have admitted having Botox in the past . - Daily Mail