Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital have developed a technology to non-invasively trigger the release of nerve-blocking agents, helping to provide targeted pain-relief to patients as an alternative to addictive opioids.
The team’s work was published yesterday in Nature Biomedical Engineering.
“Opioid abuse is a growing problem in healthcare,” senior author Dr. Daniel Kohane said in prepared remarks. “In the future, this system could potentially combat that by giving patients access to non-opioid, effective nerve-blocking drugs.”
“One of the most interesting aspects about this system is that the degree of nerve block can be controlled just by adjusting the duration and intensity of the ultrasound,” co-first author Alina Rwei added.
“We envision that patients could get an injection at the hospital and then bring home a small, portable ultrasound device for triggering the nerve-blocking agent,” Rwei said. “This could allow patients to manage their pain relief at-will, non-invasively.”
The team created liposomes that are laden with sono-sensitizers – agents that sensitive to ultrasound – and filled the artificial sacs with a nerve-blocking drug.
“Once the drug-filled liposomes are injected, ultrasound can be applied to penetrate tissue and cause the sensitizers to create reactive oxygen species, which react with lipids in the walls of the liposomes,” Kohane said. “This opens the surface of the liposomes and releases the nerve-blocking drug into the local tissue, reducing pain.”
The sono-sensitizer molecules are the active ingredient in an FDA-cleared drug that is traditionally used in photodynamic therapy, according to the researchers.
The team’s liposomes can be triggered with ultrasound up to three days following administration.
“Out of all the particle delivery systems, I think liposomes are one of the most clinically-acceptable and customizable options out there,” Rwei said. “Our research indicates that liposomes can be tailored to respond to near-infrared light, ultrasound and even magnetic triggers.”