Published On: Thu, Aug 17th, 2017

Soon, a ‘powerful’ pain reliever that could end opioid crisis

Washington: A team of scientists has discovered what they say is a powerful pain reliever that acts on a previously unknown pain pathway.

Teenage girl buying opioids on the street from dealer.

Teenage girl buying opioids on the street from dealer.

The synthetic compound, known as UKH-1114, is as effective at relieving neuropathic pain in injured mice as a drug widely used for pain relief called gabapentin, but it works at a much lower dose, with longer duration of action.

If the researchers led by chemists Stephen Martin and James Sahn at The University of Texas at Austin can demonstrate that the drug is safe, effective and nonaddictive in humans – a process that typically takes years – the discovery could be instrumental in addressing one of today’s biggest public health challenges: the opioid abuse epidemic.

Alternatives to opioids have their own drawbacks, for example, gabapentin (sold as Neurontin) can cause cognitive impairment in certain individuals.

“This opens the door to having a new treatment for neuropathic pain that is not an opioid,” said Martin. “And that has huge implications.”

The pain drug they found binds to a receptor on cells throughout the central nervous system called the sigma 2 receptor. Although it was discovered 25 years ago, scientists still did not know what sigma 2 did until now.

Researcher Theodore Price tested 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 research 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.

The results are published in the journal ACS Chemical Neuroscience.


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