Dr. Amy Baxter Creates Product to Relieve Pain
When Dr. Amy Baxter learned in 2006 that she could qualify for a National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation Research grant to study pain management if she had a company, she turned to Pain Care Labs. Then a colleague used her pain device to eliminate opioid use after a knee replacement in 2016, and she moved from pediatric emergency medicine to full-time R&D.
Today, Pain Care Labs offers Buzzy, an OTC needle pain device, and VibraCool, a product to relieve aches and pains from injuries.
“My research interests have been eclectic in the field of suffering,” said Baxter. “I did research on nausea in children with cancer, on timing child abuse injuries using liver enzymes and I was particularly interested in needle pain. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that both pain from aging and the impact of addiction are preventable forms of suffering. My mission is to eliminate unnecessary pain.”
Baxter’s first NIH research created Buzzy, a vibration device with a frequency that canceled the pain of vaccines.
“Vibration in the right frequency, like rubbing a bumped elbow, will stop the same sharp pain nerves that lidocaine stops. Cold goes to a different nerve pathway in the brain that decreases pain everywhere,” said Baxter. “Our devices combine a thin solid ice pack that goes on the back of the vibration device. The vibration/ice combination goes where you are getting the shot for 30 seconds. After it desensitizes the nerves, you push it up and give the injection just below. The vibrations stop the pain signal from getting past the spine to the brain.”
Baxter pointed out that there are more than 80 studies showing that Buzzy can reduce needle pain by 80%, and 70% with the vibration alone.
Buzzy was first available to Quest Diagnostics for children, followed by Kinney Drugs, whose pharmacists started offering Buzzy for people who were either afraid of pain or afraid of fainting from immunizations. Buzzy also is available for patients in CVS’ cancer hubs, Baxter noted.
Pharmacies can use Buzzy for those patients who may faint from getting injections, as well as on some of the more painful injections, such as shingles and COVID. The company also is offering pharmacies Buzzy Pro, a sleeker product, to use on dialysis patients. Baxter noted that pharmaceutical companies are beginning to use Buzzy in their starter kits for biologic drugs to optimize the efficacy of the medicines.
“When injections or infusions hurt, patients may delay taking them,” she said.
Noting that all of the company’s devices are reusable, Baxter said she has sold about 350,000 Buzzys. Among those purchasing the product are parents of kids who have diabetes and are afraid of needles, people who are doing IVF and those taking biologics. “The optimal situation is when pharmacists who use Buzzy for vaccines also can explain how Buzzy helps patients who are avoiding injections,” Baxter said.
Another PainCare Labs product, VibraCool, which is intended for musculoskeletal pain and arthritis pain relief, comes with hot packs and ice packs that Baxter described as unique.
“The thermal packs have to be light and solid so you are getting the right frequency and amplitude of vibration,” Baxter said. “After Buzzy worked so well for my friend’s knee surgery, we realized that it’s the same pain nerve for knee pain as for needles. We invented compression cuffs and made the ice packs bigger. After a lot of calculation of thermal energy to make sure they are safe, we created options that give the benefits of heat or cold. For injuries and sore muscles, the benefits of motion for muscles and blood flow go beyond the pain-canceling effects of the vibration. We have a product for elbow pain, tendonitis, wrist pain, knee and hip pain and plantar fasciitis.”
So how did Baxter get involved in sharp pain research in the first place?
“I was doing research on needle pain and realized the issue was to change how doctors perceive needle pain and get them to change their behavior, rather than to prove that different things decrease pain,” said Baxter, noting that she moved to Atlanta to be involved in a sedation database that a hospital was using for children. “In emergency medicine, we do a lot of septic workups, spinal taps and lumbar punctures on infants; the problem is most doctors weren’t using the numbing cream. I wanted to do a study to show it improved the success of the procedures. I wasn’t allowed to do it unless I proved that people weren’t using medication to stop pain. The first thing I did was a study that proved people weren’t using the medication to stop pain. The next study, was to show that if you decrease pain, it improves outcomes.”
Baxter expanded her research and discovered that the number of injections that a child between the ages of 4 and 6 receives on the same day results in 50% of those people being afraid of needles eight years later and becoming two and a half times more unlikely to get their HPV vaccine.
“I needed to make this device so that we can reduce needle fear because what if there’s a pandemic and people don’t get vaccinated?” she said. “I presented to the Department of Health and Human Services and said, ‘You’ll have 26% of people who won’t get vaccinated because of needle fear. Here’s what we need to do to support getting these people vaccinated.’”
Baxter said she didn’t think she would be an inventor or creator of products when she went to medical school. But things changed.
“I always wanted to be a doctor since I was four,” she explained. “I enjoyed making things, wiring toys with electricity and putting things together. Certainly, what kid my age hasn’t been a huge Lego sculptor? I had no intention of having a business and wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for the NIH SBIR program. I didn’t see myself being an inventor or CEO, and I wouldn’t have quit practicing medicine for the needle pain issue. The opioid crisis and knowing we had a pain solution that worked gave me reason to research full time. I was happy to be academic and still value it. The things I value most about myself are the scientific contributions I’ve made.”
Going forward, Baxter believes VibraCool can play a huge role in helping to reduce opioid dependency by being a substitute for pills after injury or surgery. She also sees a role for pharmacies and pharmacists to work with patients on developing pain management plans.
“In every pharmacy there are so many things that can be put together to make a pain plan for people,” Baxter concluded. “For example, magnesium is amazing for reducing inflammation and decreasing pain. It even decreases the amount of opioids people need during surgery by a third. From aromatherapy to melatonin to Benadryl, you can reduce pain by giving people the feeling of calmness and control. There are so many different things that come together to make a person feel safe and comfortable. Having a pharmacy put together the greatest hits of everything from teas, to aromatherapy, to supplements, to devices with vibration with cold or heat, can all be part of a pain plan that anyone can use to retrain their brain out of chronic pain.”