The Most Useful Star Wars Invention Reveals a Real Medical Problem
In one of the opening scenes of star wars spin off, Boba Fett’s Book, the bounty hunter is immersed in a strange capsule filled with gel. Dreamlike flashbacks flow in and out as gelatinous liquid in the so-called “bacta reservoir” bathes Boba Fett, healing his wounds and easing his chronic pain.
Plot-wise, this sci-fi invention makes sense. Boba Fett is bound to have a lot more sore muscles than the average office worker sprawled on his desk. He suffered extensive skin damage in the harsh Tattooine desert. He also fell into the Sarlacc, suffering injuries from the creature’s stomach acid.
But is this regenerative medical technology real science, or just real good science fiction? Reverse speak with Mohab Ibrahimmedical director of the University of Arizona Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center, to answer all your questions about the bacta reservoir and discuss how the Disney+ show shines a light on a painful human condition that affects millions of people. people.
It turns out that there are real drugs that slightly resemble the gel in the bacta tank, although you have to bathe in them is another matter.
“As far as I know, there is no therapy that immerses people in liquids or gels to control their pain,” Ibrahim said. Reverse.
Coil Science is a Reverse series that reveals the real (and fake) science behind your favorite movies and series.
The real equivalent of Bacta Tank gel
The bacta tank contains a gel-like liquid that heals Boba Fett’s wounds and relieves his chronic pain. For the purposes of our discussion, we will focus on the latter application.
Turns out, there are plenty of gels out there that relieve inflammatory pain, and you don’t have to build a fancy tank to use them. Instead, you can head to the nearest pharmacy.
“There are topical medications that people can apply to their skin to control pain,” says Ibrahim.
Two of the most popular pain relieving gels include Voltarene and lidocaine. If you have already used a Hot Lidocaine Ice Patch after a strenuous workout, you’re not too far off from Boba Fett (minus the whole bounty hunter thing).
Each of these gels works differently, but their biochemical processes offer insight into how the gel in the bacta tank could ease Boba Fett’s pain. Ibrahim explains the pain relief mechanisms behind lidocaine.
“Lidocaine is a local anesthetic. Local anesthetics work by blocking the sodium channel” in the nerves, Ibrahim says. The sodium channel is necessary for nerves to receive and send signals, thereby blocking the sensory signals that cause pain.
“Think of a nerve as an electrical wire that carries an electrical signal,” he explains. “Sodium channels allow this signal to travel from point A to point B.”
As for the restorative aspect of bacta reservoir skin, lidocaine wouldn’t work so well, but studies show that aloe vera – a plant used since antiquity to heal wounds – can be useful.
Can you swim in “bacta tank” gel?
To his knowledge, Ibrahim says there are no gels or liquids designed to relieve chronic pain by bathing in them. Instead, the bacta reservoir more closely resembles the types of synthetic wombs seen in The matrix.
“This whole concept of people soaking themselves in some sort of container of fluid – I think this idea comes from a baby in a womb where the baby is covered by amniotic fluid,” Ibrahim says.
He compares the reservoir of bacta in Boba Fett’s Book to a type of regenerative medicine imagined more in science fiction than in reality, although recent scientific developments could change that.
But, hypothetically speaking, could you safely bathe in lidocaine? Certainly not, says Ibrahim.
He explains that each drug has a “therapeutic window” for effectiveness.
“If you give too little medicine, you probably won’t get benefits. If you consume too much of it, you get into the toxic aspects of it,” says Ibrahim.
He adds, “When you apply all that lidocaine all over your body at once, you get into the toxic range.”
So bathing in lidocaine would likely push the gel into the toxic range. When local anesthetics like lidocaine enter the toxic range, they can cause heart arrhythmias, seizures, neurological damage, or even stop the heart from beating.
He adds that bathing in lidocaine is also impractical and too expensive for many chronic patients who don’t have “head to toe” pain like Boba Fett.
Even if you can’t bathe in lidocaine – seriously, please do not do do this – Ibrahim says there are other methods of pain relief that bathe the patient metaphorically, if not literally.
These types of immersive practices for chronic pain include sound therapy and aromatherapy. Ibrahim says researchers still don’t know how they work, but it’s possible they could impact the central nervous system by activating certain receptors in the nose, eyes and ears.
Besides bathing, are there other popular pod-like treatments – like hyperbaric oxygen chambers – resembling the bacta tank for chronic pain? Not yet.
A Canadian 2018 report found “evidence to suggest that two months of hyperbaric oxygen therapy increases pain thresholds, physical functionality, and health-related quality of life” in patients with fibromyalgia, but researchers were unable to draw conclusions regarding its long-term efficacy or feasibility for the “treatment of chronic musculoskeletal pain”.
How should Boba Fett be treated for chronic pain?
But what exactly is chronic pain and how is it different from short-term acute pain?
“The general definition – and it’s an all-encompassing definition that may not apply to everyone – is when the pain lasts longer than three months,” says Ibrahim.
Ibrahim says chronic pain is a condition “that we don’t fully understand”.
“Some people consider it not real or fake or someone just trying to make an excuse,” Ibrahim says, “But we see them at the pain clinic, and they have real pain issues. “
He adds: “Just because we don’t understand the pathophysiology doesn’t mean this condition doesn’t exist.”
So how would Ibrahim treat Boba Fett if he was his patient? Instead of throwing him into a tank of bacta, Ibrahim says he would start by finding a diagnosis.
“Why does this individual have pain all over his body? Ibrahim asks. “Is it just multiple traumas over the years given his lineage of [work] or does he have neurological problems that cause pain? »
Next, he would ask where Boba Fett feels pain, i.e. in the muscles, bones or joints. These questions could help determine if Boba Fett has genetic conditions or a viral infection causing chronic pain.
“Once we find the diagnosis, we can start a treatment plan,” says Ibrahim. Lidocaine infusions — placing an IV in the hand or arm to pump lidocaine — are an approved treatment, although doctors should watch carefully for overdoses.
Setting aside the bacta reservoir, Boba Fett’s Book highlights a real medical problem that affects millions of people around the world. According to a 2016 to studybetween 11 and 40% of the American adult population suffers from chronic pain.
For such a widespread problem, there isn’t much screen time in Hollywood, which makes Boba Fett’s chronic pain an important on-screen portrayal of a little-understood medical condition.
Boba Fett’s Book is streaming now on Disney+.