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No More Novocaine? Light Could Soon Help Numb Your Pain

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(Photo: DentalAssistant.net)

First they give you a swab of Orajel -- if you're lucky. Then, in comes a heavy duty-looking needle to shoot novocaine into your gums. You're left with a tingly, droopy and puffy sensation. But it's all worth the initial pain and temporarily awkward face and drinking style afterward to avoid feeling the dentist's drill, right?

Researchers are currently working on a method that might help you avoid local anesthetics like novocaine all together -- while still giving you relief from drilling or other ailments. Gizmodo reports that optogenetics is a growing field of research that studies how light at varying wavelengths can affect an organisms' cells:

In new research published inĀ Nature Methods, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Munich and the University of Bordeaux developed a molecule they call QAQ that acts like lidocaine, a commonly used anesthetic. Once inserted into nerves responsible for perceiving pain, the new molecule can block the ion channels responsible for pain when exposed to a specific wavelength of light.

Ars Technica reports that using such technology as compared to local anesthetics could reduce some of the side effects of many that are currently used, such as euphoria, addictive nature and only short-lived pain relief. It could also target cells more specifically instead of, for example, numbing the whole lower side of one's jaw.

So far, according to Gizmodo, the researchers have inserted the QAQ molecule manually into rat cells. If it is to have application for humans in the future, they may have to think of a more efficient way to insert the molecule into specific cells.

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