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Non-traditional medications fight pain.

Using existing drugs not previously tried for the treatment of pain is a new approach under investigation by Charles Chabal, assistant professor of anesthesiology, University of Washington School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Seattle. "One of the biggest frontiers in pain medication is to try to select the appropriate medication for the individual patient. Currently, there are many different medications that can be tried to treat pain. All have side effects and all take time to reach trerapeutic levels. It can be akin to a fishing expedition to find the right one," he explains.

Chabal works with membrane stabilizing agents, drugs that historically have not been used to treat pain, but are known to stabilize injured nerve cell membranes and in many cases relieve patient suffering. His research also includes a broad range of other medications--including local anesthetics, anti-depressants, and mexiletine--that can be used alone or in combination to treat pain. "It is very difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to screen drugs that you think may work in human. By taking this route, I get an idea of which drugs might work best and then can prescribe them for human patients."

For example, mexiletine, an oral anti-arrhythmia medication, has the ability to stabilize injured nerves and in fact is an effective analgesic in individuals. "Mexiletine is similar to aspirin, in a sense--both drugs were developed for other purposes. Aspirin, which was developed primarily as a pain medicine, is probably equally important as a blood thinner."

It is Chabal's hope that, through alternative applications of medications and, in some cases, combination therapy, it will be easier to diagnose and treat chronic pain with fewer side effects. Some of these new applications may offer hope to patients who previously were unable to obtain sufficient relief for their suffering.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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