AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.How could something searing possibly soothe? Bite a hot pepper, and after the burn your tongue goes numb. The hope is that bathing surgically exposed nerves in a high-enough dose will numb them for weeks, so that patients suffer less pain and require fewer narcotic painkillers as they heal. “We wanted to exploit this numbness” is how Dr. Eske Aasvang, a pain specialist in Denmark who is testing the substance, puts it. Chili peppers have been part of folk remedy for centuries, and heat-inducing capsaicin creams are a drugstore staple for aching muscles. But today the spice is hot because of research showing that capsaicin targets key pain-sensing cells in a unique way. California-based Anesiva Inc.’s operating-room experiments aren’t the only attempt to harness that burn for more focused pain relief. WASHINGTON: Doctors are experimenting with a chemical that makes peppers hot as a numbing agent during painful surgeries. Devil’s Revenge. Spontaneous Combustion. Hot sauces have names like that for a reason. Now scientists are testing whether the stuff that makes the sauces so savage can tame the pain of surgery. Doctors are dripping the chemical that gives chili peppers their fire directly into open wounds during knee replacement and a few other highly painful operations. Don’t try this at home: These experiments use an ultra-purified version of capsaicin to avoid infection – and the volunteers are under anesthesia so they don’t scream at the initial burn. Harvard University researchers are mixing capsaicin with another anesthetic in hopes of developing epidurals that wouldn’t confine women to bed during childbirth, or dental injections that don’t numb the whole mouth. And at the National Institutes of Health, scientists hope early next year to begin testing in advanced cancer patients a capsaicin cousin that is 1,000 times more potent, to see if it can zap their intractable pain. Nerve cells that sense a type of long-term throbbing pain bear a receptor, or gate, called TRPV1. Capsaicin binds to that receptor and opens it to enter only those pain fibers – and not other nerves responsible for other kinds of pain or other functions such as movement. These so-called C neurons also sense heat; thus capsaicin’s burn. But when TRPV1 opens, it lets extra calcium inside the cells until the nerves become overloaded and shut down. That’s the numbness. “It just required a new outlook about … stimulation of this receptor” to turn those cellular discoveries into a therapy hunt, says the NIH’s Dr. Michael Iadarola. Enter Anesiva’s specially purified capsaicin, called Adlea. Experiments are under way involving several hundred patients undergoing various surgeries, including knee and hip replacements. Surgeons drip either Adlea or a dummy solution into the cut muscle and tissue and wait five minutes for it to soak in before stitching up the wound. Among early results: In a test of 41 men undergoing open hernia repair, capsaicin recipients reported significantly less pain in the first three days after surgery, Aasvang reported this month at a meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Ongoing studies are testing larger doses in more patients to see whether the effect is real.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!