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B. Fighting Fire With Fire

Narrator: This is Science Today. Researchers have discovered that high, topical doses of capsaicin, a derivative of hot chili peppers, can relieve the burning hand and foot sensations present in about a third of patients with diabetes. Wendye Robbins, a professor of anesthesia at the University of California, San Francisco, says one of the fears has been these numbing high doses could destroy natural heat sensors.

Robbins: Such that if somebody were to have real hot water from the shower on their foot or touch themselves with something real hot, they wouldn't appreciate it. They wouldn't know it and could injure themselves.

Narrator: But Robbins says researchers have found there's no impact on heat appreciation.

Robbins: This medicine seems to be particularly aggressive at attacking injured fibers which are not sending normal signals anyway and leaving uninjured fibers alone. At least that seems to be what's going on at this point.

Narrator: High doses of capsaicin, which cause an intense burning, can only be tolerated with regional anesthesia during an outpatient procedure. But Robbins says researchers are working on a concept utilizing a patch to deliver the anesthesia instead. For Science Today, I'm Larissa Branin.