British scientists have developed a new way of joining and rebuilding molecules and used it to refine the anti-wrinkle treatment Botox in an effort to improve its use for Parkinson's, cerebral palsy and chronic migraine.
Researchers at the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology said their results also open up ways to develop new forms of Clostridium botulinum neurotoxin, commonly known as Botox, which may be used as long-term painkillers.
"It will now be possible to produce Botox-based medicines in a safer and more economical way," Bazbek Davletov, who led the study, said in a statement about his findings.
By breaking down Botox molecules into two separate building blocks, Davletov's team were able to produce them separately and safely, and then "clip" them back together again, they said in a report of work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal.
The new clipping method produced a refined Botox-like molecule, they said, which would be practical for clinical use but would not have unwanted toxic effects.
In recent years, Botox has been used increasingly as a medical treatment, with doctors exploiting its ability to relax muscles and nerves to try to still spasms and tremors such those in patients with Parkinson's disease, or to ease pain.
Britain in July became the first country to approve the wrinkle smoothing drug -- sold under the brand name Botox by Allergan -- as a treatment for migraine.
But the substance is extremely toxic and can only be used in a very diluted form, a factor which has limited its development for other uses.
Davletov said the new refining technique could allow scientists to produce new forms of Botox with wider practical medicinal uses, for example as a long-term painkiller.
"This is the first time we have been able to treat protein molecules like Lego building blocks, mixing and matching them to create the basis for treatments that would not previously have been possible," he said.
The method could potentially allow researchers to develop a form of chronic pain relief which could last as long as a single Botox injection -- around four to six months, he said.