In a recent study, a team of scientists from The University of Texas at Austin have discovered a powerful pain reliever that acts on a previously unknown pain pathway.
The new synthetic compound, known as UKH-1114, can relieve neuropathic pain in injured mice.
Usually, neuropathic pain is treated with a drug called gabapentin, but new compound can relieve pain at a much lower dose, with much longer time.
The research team are trying to see if the drug is safe, effective and nonaddictive in humans.
This process usually takes years. But if they can, the discovery could help address one of today’s biggest public health challenges: the opioid abuse epidemic.
Currently almost a third of Americans suffer from chronic pain, but the most effective pain relievers—opioids—are addictive and often require increased dosing to relieve pain.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 2 million people in the U.S. suffer from addiction to prescription opioid pain relievers.
There are other options that can replace opioids, but they have their own drawbacks. For example, gabapentin (sold as Neurontin) can harm cognitive functions in some people.
In the study, the researchers found that the new pain drug binds to a receptor on cells throughout the central nervous system called the sigma 2 receptor.
Scientists discovered the receptor 25 years ago, but only until now they start to know it.
The team tested the compound UKH-1114 on mice with nerve damage and found that it alleviated pain as well as gabapentin did, but at a much lower dose (one-sixth as much) and was effective much longer (lasting for a couple of days, compared with 4 to 6 hours).
This finding is the first to demonstrate that the sigma 2 receptor may be a target for treating neuropathic pain.
The researchers have filed patent applications on the new compound.
Neuropathic pain, or chronic pain, is caused when nerves in the central nervous system are damaged.
Among other things, it can result from chemotherapy, diabetes and injuries to the brain or spinal cord.
Much work remains to be done before UKH-1114 can enter the market. More studies are needed to demonstrate safety of the drug.
In the meantime, the team is working to understand, on a fundamental level, how activating the sigma 2 receptor could relieve neuropathic pain.
The researchers believe their finding opens the door to having a new treatment for neuropathic pain that is not an opioid, and that it has huge implications.
They see the possibility that the discoveries could improve the quality of people’s lives.
The finding is published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.
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