CAMBRIDGE (CBS) – A new treatment could help ease the passage of kidney stones, according to researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital. Scientists said this week that muscle relaxants can reduce the contractions that cause pain when passing the stones.

About 1 in 10 people will have the painful experience of kidney stones. They cause more than 500,000 emergency room visits in the United States every year.

But local researchers think they’ve made a discovery that can help. They say delivering a combination of two muscle relaxants directly to the ureter, the tube that connects the kidneys and bladder, can make passage faster and less painful.

MIT engineers used human ureteral smooth muscle cells grown in a lab dish to identify drugs that would help to relax the muscle cells. (Image credit: Christopher Lee and Michael Cima)

“We think this could significantly impact kidney stone disease, which affects millions of people,” MIT professor Michael Cima said in a statement.

Currently, patients are usually told to wait for the stones to pass and given painkillers as well as an oral medication that is supposed to help relax the ureter, but it’s unclear if that treatment is effective.

“If you look at how kidney stones are treated today, it hasn’t really changed since about 1980, and there’s a pretty substantial amount of evidence that the drugs given don’t work very well,” lead study author Christopher Lee said. “The volume of how many people this could potentially help is really exciting.”

The two drugs that have worked well in tests are nifedipine, used to treat high blood pressure, and a ROCK inhibitor that is used to treat glaucoma patients.

Testing has not yet taken place in human patients, and MIT says more research is needed to determine how much the relaxation is needed.

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