On 1 October 2014, researchers writing in the Cell Press journal suggested new ways to improve the safety and efficacy of Botox injections. New insights into botulinum neurotoxins and their interactions with cells are moving scientists ever closer to safer forms of Botox and a better understanding of the dangerous disease known as botulism.
Botulinum toxin is a protein and neurotoxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. The most well-known form of botulinum toxin type A is Botox, which is available commercially for various cosmetic and medical procedures. Botox is a bacterial toxin that prevents nerves from releasing a chemical called acetylcholine, which is essential for the nerves to communicate with muscle cells. This toxin therefore prevents muscles from receiving nerve stimulation causing the muscles to become paralysed.
The cosmetic effect of Botox on wrinkles was originally documented by a plastic surgeon from California in 1989. On 12 April 2002, after formal trials, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) announced regulatory approval of Botox to temporarily improve the appearance of moderate-to-severe frown lines between the eyebrows. Subsequently, cosmetic use of Botox has become widespread. The global Botox market is forecast to reach $2.9 billion by 2018.
Elise Bevan, a solicitor in the Clinical Negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP, said: “Despite its widespread use in the cosmetic industry, Botox is the most acutely lethal toxin known to science. It can cause botulism, a rare but serious and life-threatening illness in humans which attacks the nervous system and causes paralysis that gradually spreads down the body from the head to the legs. If the condition is not treated quickly, the paralysis will eventually affect the muscles controlling breathing and cause fatal respiratory failure. Botulism is therefore a serious condition requiring immediate medical attention.
“Scientists from the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland are currently researching ways to improve the safety of Botox. They are looking at designing specific antibodies to prevent the interaction that occurs between botulinum neurotoxins and their receptors and causes botulism. They are also exploring whether it may be possible to engineer safer toxins for medical and cosmetic applications. The results so far offer hope for less risky clinical use of Botox in the future.”