A Soviet technology developed during the Cold War to keep short-range military communications secure may someday provide relief from hard-to-treat conditions such as nerve pain, intense itching, and nausea caused by chemotherapy. And, with the support of a $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, Temple University School of Medicine scientists are the only group in the United States now investigating this alternative therapy.
Millimeter wave therapy, which directs a low-intensity electromagnetic beam to the skin, has been used for more than 25 years in Eastern Europe, where it is credited with alleviating more than 50 different conditions, ranging from heart disease to skin wounds and even cancer. Doctors there believe that the waves boost the immune system, act as an anti-inflammatory, and provide sedation and pain relief, all with virtually no side effects.
While the therapy remains largely unknown in the West, Marvin Ziskin, M.D., professor of radiology and medical physics at Temple, first encountered it in the early 1990s on a trip to the former Soviet Union.
"We found that millimeter waves reduce pain in laboratory animals, stimulate the immune system and slow the progression of skin melanomas, without damage to the skin or other harmful side effects. It's a painless, non-invasive, easily tolerated therapy," said Ziskin.
Eastern European doctors directly apply millimeter waves to skin lesions and acupuncture points. It's also common to beam them onto a diseased organ or a troublesome joint.
Absorbed very rapidly by the skin, millimeter waves appear to initiate a response in peripheral nerve endings. Ziskin's working hypothesis is that as waves reach these nerve endings, a signal is conveyed to the nervous system to modulate neural activity, in the process activating various biological effects. In one possible scenario, millimeter waves trigger the release of opioids that are known to be involved in sedation, pain relief and modulation of the immune system.
"Applying the waves to points on the skin with the highest density of nerves appears to work best. Using this approach, under strict double-blind conditions, we've produced evidence of pain relief in experimental animal models as well as in a small group of human volunteers," said Ziskin.
Categories: Analgesics, Chronic_pain