New method uses coated gold nanorods to treat pain

Tatsuya Murakami

Tiny gold nanorods have been the subject of a number of preclinical studies. Now a team at the University of Kyoto in Japan says they coated the ultrathin rods with a fat-transporting protein and found that it could be a very effective treatment for pain.

The coating was needed to bind the nanorods to nerve cell membranes which have a pain receptor called TRPV1 (transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1). Once locked on, a near-infrared light was used to heat up the gold nanorods which in turn activated the pain receptor, spurring an influx of calcium ions that desensitized the target, eliminating pain.

Their work offers a new approach that could substitute for earlier studies that required the genetic modification of cells for it to work through applying a magnetic field. The coating technology allowed for a targeted therapy that amped up the efficacy and avoided the genetic modification, keeping it relatively simple.

The researchers also concluded that they might be able to develop a new pain remedy that could be used as needed.

"The gold nanorods can be retained in the body for a prolonged period," says Tatsuya Murakami, the principal investigator of this study. "Local injection of our gold nanorods might enable repetitive and on-demand treatment for people experiencing intractable pain because prior genetic engineering of the target cells is unnecessary."

Physicians have relied on a generation of opioids to manage pain, opening the door to widespread abuse while also spurring researchers to find new ways to control pain.

The study was published in Angewandte Chemie International Edition on August 6.

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