Most people are aware that botulinum toxin (botox) is increasingly used for cosmetic purposes around the world. This has led to some protests by animal rights group because every batch of botox is tested on mice using an LD50 test to determine its potency. Because botulinum toxin is potentially deadly to human beings and each batch is of different toxicity, the LD50 test with mice is the only way to ensure that human beings receive a safe dose of botox.
Botox has a number of clinical uses beyond simply cosmetic, however. It is being used, for example, to treat muscle spasticity in the arms and hands of children with cerebral palsy.
In people with cerebral palsy, the brain sends abnormal messages to the muscles in the arms and legs which causes them to become too tense (spastic). This inhibits movement and makes it difficult for affected individuals to do common activities such as getting dressed or brushing teeth.
Since 1998, Wake Forest University research L. Andrew Koman has used botox to treat muscle spasticity. He recently reported on a study in which he injected 73 cerebral palsy patients with either botox or a placebo. Patients receiving the botox injection showed a three fold improvement in functional ability compared to those who received the placebo. The botox injections cause the muscles to relax, improving the ability of those with the disease to dress themselves and accomplish other tasks.
Interestingly, according to a Wake Forest University press release on using botox as a treatment,
Results vary from patient to patient depending on the severity of the disease. In addition, many of the children need fewer shots over time, are able to lengthen the time between injections, and even stop the injections completely, Koman said.
“Many of our patients come back into the office asking for additional injections because they are thrilled with the results,” he said. “Once the muscles have relaxed, patients can undergo therapy to strengthen weak muscles. Botox injections work very well in conjunction with other treatments.”
Of course there will always remain animal rights activists like Bill Maher or Ingrid Newkirk who will maintain that killing a few mice to allow children with cerebral palsy to improve their daily functioning is just not a tradeoff worth making.
Researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist use botox to treat CP. Press Release, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, May 1, 2004.