Updated 12:00 PM ET November 14, 2000
By Noah Grand
U. California-Los Angeles
(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES -- A new medical procedure developed by University of California-Los Angeles neurosurgeon Dr. Aaron Filler and colleagues will allow doctors to deliver medicine through the nerves to specific parts of the body.
Such a procedure allows doctors to use less drugs that have the same effect while avoiding unwanted side effects.
"The way this works makes this the first 21st century medication," Filler said. "There are a number of medical effects that can't be done before this process."
Filler's process uses a new combination of molecules to deliver medicine by which the molecules are able to target specific areas of the body by going through the nerves.
Carrying medicine through the nerves reduces side effects because less medicine is needed to relieve a patient's pain.
This new procedure is the first to carry medicine through the nerves.
The only similar way to deliver medicine without side effects is through the spinal fluid, but that requires surgery.
Normally, medication goes into the bloodstream, which transports the medicine to all parts of the body.
During surgery, medicine delivered through the blood can cause side effects such as nausea and drowsiness because of the high amounts used.
"There are many medicines that are effective in reducing pain, but by the time that a large enough dose has been administered to be effective, you have side effects," said Dr. Joshua Prager, director of the California Pain Medicine Center.
"We try to deliver the optimal amount of medicine without side effects," he added.
The new delivery system can reduce the amount of an opiate, such as morphine, needed to effectively reduce a patient's pain to one thousandth of the normal dose, according to Filler.
Transporting medicine through the nerves may be cheaper than delivering medicine through spinal fluid.
"I use expensive devices and surgery to deliver medicine to the spinal fluid," Prager said. "Dr. Filler goes up the nerve fibers."
The advance of Filler's procedure is that it is an injection and does not require surgery or complicated machines.
"We inject the drug before surgery, and it should relieve pain for four days with no side effects," Filler said.
Human testing of the procedure will not start until 2002. Filler said this time frame was typical with a new procedure.
Besides pain relief before surgery, Filler said the process could be used to send medicine to the motor nerves to relieve muscle spasms.
Because the medicine goes to the brain itself, the process could also be used to treat multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer's disease in the future.
Filler's process is the first one capable of delivering medicine specifically to the nerves in the brain affected by these diseases.
"This could lead to 50 or 60 new medicines over the next 10 years," Filler said.
He has worked on this process for 20 years after he discovered some of the base ideas as a graduate student in the late '70s.
The discovery was only completed now because the technology to make molecules that carry medicine through the nerves by a natural process called axonal transport was recently developed.
"Axonal transport has been the subject of 20 to 30 thousand papers in the last 30 years," Filler said.
Filler, however, is the first to use the system for medical purposes.
(C) 2000 Daily Bruin via U-WIRE