A team of 22 scientists from 11 research institutes worldwide deconstructed two neurotoxins and recombined them to form a new biotherapeutic molecule that can inhibit hypersensitivity and inflammatory reactions, and thus potentially treat neurological conditions such as epilepsy and chronic pain.
The “chimera” protein is essentially concocted from components of Clostridium botulinum, better known as the bacterium that is linked with paralysis from consuming contaminated canned goods, as well as Botox injections to prevent facial wrinkles, and Clostridium tetani, a microbe that causes lockjaw and certain death if treatment is not rendered in a timely manner.
The team isolated the neuronal signal blocking, hence pain signal blocking, properties of Botox and combined them with tetanus to guide Botox to the central nervous system where pain signals travel, since Botox tends to target the peripheral neurons. The bioengineered molecule is said to prevent pain for seven months in animal studies, as opposed to traditional pain medications that only last a few hours.
Scientists noted the benefits of working with such dangerous paralyzing agents are the great rewards they can reap from out-of-the-box thinking. The neurotoxins were pieced apart to render them harmless, but their paralysis effect was slightly retained to prevent neurotransmission of signals—the way Botox works to “freeze” the facial muscles to get rid of wrinkles.
The hope is the new bioengineered molecule can open up avenues in the treatment of a wide array of neurological disorders, particularly chronic pain, to improve quality of life for individuals with debilitating neurological conditions, as well as inspire new research into the creation of other chimeric proteins for the expansion of treatment to other types of diseases.