Public Release:  Studies explore new approaches to treating pain

Research includes drug and non-drug interventions

Society for Neuroscience

Washington -- Scientists are discovering promising approaches to treating pain, one of the most common and debilitating neurological complaints, according to research released today at Neuroscience 2011, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world's largest source of emerging news about brain science and health. Studies show that "mirror box therapy" can help reduce arthritis-related pain, and that a new opioid-like drug may be able to relieve acute pain without the euphoric effects that can lead to dependency. Additional research also identifies the possible neurobiological source of common side effects of morphine.

Specifically, today's new findings show that:

  • Two of morphine's most common side effects, itch and headache, may be due to the drug's activation of immune cells in the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord (Julie Wieseler, PhD, abstract 178.12, see summary attached).
  • A visual feedback technique called mirror box therapy can help alleviate hand pain in patients with arthritis (Laura Case, abstract 72.03, see summary attached).
  • In an animal study, a novel drug relieves acute pain without the dangerous side effects associated with opioid painkillers such as morphine (Stephen Harrison, PhD, abstract 178.10, see summary attached).

Other recent findings discussed show:

  • A gene therapy treatment reduced pain in 10 people in a Phase I clinical trial that tested for treatment safety (David Fink, MD, see attached speaker's summary).
  • A naturally occurring protein that supports the survival and growth of neurons in the brain and spinal cord may be a potential therapeutic intervention to prevent chronic pain following spinal cord injuries, according to animal research (Ching-Yi Lin, PhD, see attached speaker's summary).

"Pain is one of the most intransigent and difficult symptoms to treat," said Allan I. Basbaum, PhD, FRS, of the University of California, San Francisco, press conference moderator and expert on the neurobiology of pain. "These studies and others are helping us better understand the complex neural pathways involved in pain and the long-term consequences of injury. With this, researchers will be better poised to develop approaches to alleviate pain and aid in recovery from injuries."

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This research was supported by national funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, as well as private and philanthropic organizations. Dr. Basbaum has consulted with Nektar Therapeutics, Inc., but was not involved in research presented today.

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