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Harvard boffins brew up chilli-based anaesthetic

Can you feel the burn? Er, no.

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American boffins reckon an anaesthetic based on chilli peppers could allow patients to undergo operations while fully conscious.

Sadly, the research doesn't mean that steaming curry or spicy kebab you wolf down after ten pints of lager will dull the inevitable headache the next day.

Rather, Harvard Medical School's Professor Bruce Bean (we all know beans and chillis go well together) and Clifford Woolf used capsaicin, the active ingredient in the fiery fruit pods, in combination with QX-314, a "normally inactive" ingredient of lidocaine.

Put really simply, QX-314 can't normally penetrate cells, making it pretty useless as an anaesthetic. However, the capsaicin opens a gate on pain-transmitting neurons, allowing the QX-314 to enter the cell and switch it off.

However, other neurons remain unaffected, side-stepping the side-effects of other anaesthetics, ranging from local paralysis to loss of consciousness.

The possibilities are intriguing. For example, an anaesthetic based on the new mix could mean you could get dental work done and walk out of the surgery without leaving a trail of spittle behind you. Woolf and Bean have even postulated that they could adapt their findings to produce a compound to deaden itches.

Woolf and Bean's research will go a long towards restoring the reputation of the chilli. On Monday, the pungent pods were in danger of being classed as a weapon of mass destruction, or certainly mass distraction, after London cops shut down Soho after the aroma of a Thai chef's chilli sauce was mistaken for a chemical attack. ®

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