Botox alternative: Freeze away your wrinkles

Botox is a treatment so common, that an estimated six million doses are now given every year.

"And today, it's actually the single most popular cosmetic treatment in the United States," says Dr. Larry Fan, a San Francisco plastic surgeon.

Botox employs botulinum toxin to disable nerves and muscles. Besides relaxing wrinkles, it's also used to treat conditions ranging from pain, to chronic muscle spasms, and even extreme sweating. Now a Bay Area company believes it has a new device that can accomplish much of what Botox can do, but without the toxin.

John Allison is vice president of research at Redwood City's Myoscience, a company that has developed a system to freeze nerves. He says the needles used don't actually inject anything into a patient's body. Instead, they're filled with a pressurized refrigerant which super-cools them. Once the cooling begins, "You can see the needles beginning to form an ice ball at their tip," says Allison. He says that ice ball, visible in the test material, freezes the nerve without harming the skin or surrounding tissue.

"No, we're not killing the nerve. It's a second-degree Wallerian degeneration," says Myoscience CEO Clint Carnell. "That's a fancy way of saying we use cold in about a 30-second dose over nerve and it simply puts the nerve into hibernation."

In clinical trials, that hibernation has lasted between two to four months, roughly the duration of Botox injections. The company is careful to point out that the system is still in the trial phase in the United States and not yet FDA-approved. However, it was recently cleared for treating wrinkles and muscle pain in Europe and Canada.

"We believe that we have a technology that could potentially be very effective across many different indications, whether they're movement disorders, whether they're pain, or whether they're aesthetic benefits," says Carnell.

After more than two decades, it's unlikely that the popularity of Botox will fade anytime soon. Still, Fan, who participated in the Myoscience trial, believes the device could offer some advantages. "The main one is that it is completely natural, and I think that does resonate with a lot of people," he says. "People want to look younger, they want to look better, as well as being able to treat other conditions, but all things being equal, they would prefer to do it in the most natural way possible."

Again, this is very new technology. The company is currently opening its first centers in Europe where it received clearance less than six months ago.

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