Painful and frightening injections could become a thing of the past thanks to an innovative "magic cream" created by researchers at Queen's University, Belfast.
The international healthcare company Smith and Nephew has launched Ametop gel, first created 15 years ago by David Woolfson and Dermot McCafferty of the university's school of pharmacy.
A consultant paediatric surgeon, concerned by the pain suffered by young cancer patients from frequent injections, challenged them to develop a fast-acting anaesthetic which would be safe to use on healthy skin.
"Within a few months we had produced a cream containing the local anaesthetic agent, amethocain," Dr McCafferty said. "Although it was fairly crude in that it had a high drug content and poor chemical stability, the main point was that it worked."
The team refined the cream to conform to pharmaceutical and clinical standards and began to supply it to local hospitals for named patients.
"Clinical staff were very enthusiastic and the patients, especially children who can be severely traumatised by unexpected pain, had no reservations," said Dr McCafferty.
Those taking part in the trials dubbed the anaesthetic the "magic cream", but initial moves towards making the product commercially available were daunting, given that its type of anaesthesia was then virtually unknown. But Smith and Nephew, who have licensed the development from Queen's, will now market the gel internationally.
The cream works through healthy skin to "freeze" the layers below the surface for four to six hours. "The product has several benefits," said Professor Woolfson. "Its use before an injection or intravenous treatment can result in better time management. On a paediatric ward in particular there are obvious advantages in being able to prepare children for pain-free injections."