Stories about: chronic pain

Treating chronic pain: From humans to mice and back

"Reverse engineering" reveals the enzyme sepiapterin reductase (SPR)—the large gray molecule in the background—as a new target for pain treatment. This take on Michelangelo's famous Sistine Chapel image symbolizes the link between human pain patients and the mouse model. The lab-designed SPR inhibitor (in green), shown within SPR’s active pocket, is the "bridge" between the two species. (Image: Alban Latremoliere)
“Reverse engineering” reveals the enzyme sepiapterin reductase (SPR)—the large gray molecule in the background—as a new target for pain treatment. This take on Michelangelo’s famous Sistine Chapel image symbolizes the link between human pain patients and the mouse model. The lab-designed SPR inhibitor in green, shown within SPR’s active pocket, is the “bridge” between the two species. (Image: Alban Latremoliere)

Non-narcotic treatments for chronic pain that work well in people, not just mice, are sorely needed. Drawing from human pain genetics, an international team demonstrates a way to break the cycle of pain hypersensitivity without the development of addiction, tolerance or side effects. Their findings were published online today in the journal Neuron.

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Modeling pain in a dish: Nociceptors made from skin recreate pain physiology

Pain in a dish nociceptors

Chronic pain, affecting tens of millions of Americans alone, is debilitating and demoralizing. It has many causes, and in the worst cases, people become “hypersensitized”—their nervous systems fire off pain signals in response to very minor triggers.

There are no good medications to calm these signals, in part because the subjectivity of pain makes it difficult to study, and in part because there haven’t been good research models. Drugs have been tested in animal models and “off the shelf” cell lines, some of them engineered to carry target molecules (such as the ion channels that trigger pain signals). Drug candidates emerging from these studies initially looked promising but haven’t panned out in clinical testing.

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Mounting a lasting blockade against pain

Saxitoxin produced by dinoflagellates (above), algae and shellfish could help stop neuropathic pain before it starts. (fickleandfreckled/Flickr)

A cut, a bruise, a scrape…these can all cause pain that, while unpleasant, usually passes quickly. But for an estimated 3.75 million children and adults in the United States with neuropathic pain, the pain is debilitating and never goes away.

Caused by diabetes, shingles, nerve trauma, cancer and other conditions, neuropathic pain is basically a sign that someone’s nervous system has lost track of what should and shouldn’t cause pain.

There are ways to treat or control neuropathic pain, like lifestyle changes and a range of medications, but they don’t target it at its source. Boston Children’s Hospital’s Daniel Kohane, MD, PhD, wants to do just that: to go for the root of neuropathic pain, maybe even stop it before it starts. And he’s doing it with microscopic beads full of a neurotoxin found in shellfish. 

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