YOUR HEALTH: Using a poisonous fish to stop your pain

NEW YORK CITY – Either you or someone you know has it.

30% of all Americans will be affected by peripheral neuropathy.  In many cases, doctors prescribe medicines to help manage the pain, burning and tingling.

Now, researchers are testing a new non-addictive treatment inspired from a surprising source.

It could help people like Joseph Malkevich.

He's been a math enthusiast for most of his adult life.  Ironically, for years Joseph has been battling a medical condition that is highly unpredictable.

"I noticed it in the form of tingling in my feet and toes and initially it went away and so I just tossed it aside as a glitch."

Joseph's doctors diagnosed him with peripheral neuropathy; damage to the nerves in the peripheral system which lead from the brain to the extremities.

But they could not determine a cause.   Medical experts say that's not uncommon.

BACKGROUND:  Neuropathy or peripheral neuropathy often causes weakness, pain and numbness, usually to the hands and feet.  It is a result of damage to the peripheral nervous system, which sends information from your brain and spinal cord, your central nervous system, to the rest of your body.  It can be a result of infections, traumatic injuries, metabolic problems, a number of inherited causes and exposures to toxins.  One of the most common causes is diabetes; however, it is common that doctors cannot determine the cause of a patient`s neuropathy. People with neuropathy usually describe the pain as a burning, stabbing, or tingling.  In many cases symptoms can improve, especially if the cause is identified and is a treatable condition.   (Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peripheral-neuropathy/home/ovc-20204944)

"In upwards of 30 percent of patients with peripheral neuropathy one can't identify a cause," said Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai neurology professor Dr. David Simpson.

Now, researchers are testing a drug to treat neuropathy pain.  Right now it's known only as CC-8464.

Inspired by the toxin found in Japanese pufferfish, the drug copies how the fish toxins disrupt signals to the body.

The potential new drug is being developed by the New Jersey-based company, Chromocell.

The FDA granted the drug "fast-track" status based on need.   It is currently in phase one clinical trials.

"How it works in the body by targeting those peripheral nerve fibers and not penetrating the brain," explained Dr. Heikki Mansikka, vice president of Clinical Development for Chromocell.

Researchers say since the drug candidate bypasses the brain and works directly on the peripheral nerves, it may not be addictive.

While Joseph chooses to manage his neuropathy without medication, he knows others with this condition may be searching for serious pain relief.

TREATMENT: Treatment is based on treating the underlying disorder.   For instance if diabetes is the cause, making certain the blood glucose levels are controlled is important.   Over-the-counter pain medications can be very helpful in controlling moderate pain.   But when taken in excess, these drugs can affect a persons` liver or stomach function.   It is important to avoid using them for an extended period, especially if you drink alcohol regularly.   Prescription pain medication can also help control the pain of this condition, including narcotics, some antidepressants and even some antiepileptic medicines.   Doctors may use several medical treatments to control symptoms of a patient`s condition.   Blood transfusions may potentially aid in removing irritating antibodies from the bloodstream, and nerve block can be injected as an anesthetic directly into the nerves.   Splints or casts may help if a patient`s neuropathy affects their feet, legs, arms or hands.  (Source: http://www.healthline.com/health/peripheral-neuropathy#treatments)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.