If it’s proven successful, the antibody could replace side-effect laden pain medications such as opioids.
Developed by researchers at Duke University, the highly specialised antibody inhibits the function of a sodium channel called Nav1.7, which is found on neurons and is known to be involved in generation pain and itchiness.
Sodium channels control the firing of the electrical signals by the neurons by controlling the flow of sodium through its membrane.
Antibodies are proteins that respond to recognised pathogens in the body, and in this case the team managed to generate one that targets the sodium channel and switches them off.
With no sodium flowing into these cells, the pain and itch response is blocked.
As Ryan Whitwam explains for Geek: Because the neurons aren’t even sending signals our brains interpret as pain, this technique could be effective in treating both inflammatory and neuropathic pain.
In mouse studies, the scientists showed the antibody treatment was effective and didn’t produce dependence or obvious side effects, Whitwam reports.
The results were published in Cell.
Duke hopes that clinical trials will soon be funded so we can work out whether this could work in humans.