Scientific research to block pain for long-lasting relief looks promising
According to the 2012 National Health Interview Survey by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), around 25.3 million adults in the U.S. experienced chronic pain i.e. they experienced pain every day for three months prior to the survey while 40 million experienced severe pain. Given the prevalence of pain and its effects, it has resulted in an increase in the rate of prescriptions for opioid pain relievers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that between 2011-14, nearly 50 percent Americans used at least one prescription drug in the past 30 days. Unfortunately, more than 40 people die every day due to overdose of prescription opioids.
The prevalence of chronic pain among Americans has given rise to substance use disorders with drugs and alcohol becoming the common choice to get quick relief. The question arises what preventive measures would ensure reduced pain medication usage and better treatment procedures for successful pain management and relief. Though laws are in place to regulate prescription drug usage and educational programs are carried out to make people aware about the side effects of misuse of prescribed medications, not many have benefitted. As more and more people continue to suffer from cancer and diabetes, the number of pain relievers being rolled out is expected to grow. In a new study, researchers from Monash University have come up with a novel strategy to block pain within the nerve cell and treat chronic pain more effectively. This could be “a major development of an immediate and long lasting treatment for pain.”
Pain can be controlled by targeting receptors inside the nerve cell
The study, published in Science Translational Medicine on May 31, 2017, was based on researchers targeting a specific protein, NK1 receptor, the receptor of the neuropeptide substance P, responsible for pain transmission in the nervous system. One of the decisive findings of the study is that previous medications targeted the protein on the surface of the nerve cell, which rendered them ineffective but Monash researchers found that NK1 controls pain once it is inside the cell. This can suppress pain more effectively ensuring higher success rate of drug delivery for treating pain.
The research team worked with a multidisciplinary team of physiologists, pharmacologists, cell biologists and drug delivery experts to develop drugs that can work on the receptor within the cell. Though the research was carried out in animal models, the researchers are hopeful that the novel method can work equally well among humans in controlling pain for longer periods. “This is a proof-of-concept study that shows that we can re-engineer current pain drugs and make them more effective,” said Dr Meritxell Canals from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) and the ARC Centre for Excellence in Bio-Nano Science (CBNS) at Monash University.
While this could pave the way for better drug development strategy, health care professionals including pharmacists, mental health service providers and physicians should keep a check on the patients who are undergoing treatment with prescription drugs and educate them about the side effects. Regular monitoring and assessment of patients’ history and development can highlight the risk category and accordingly, steps can be taken.
Road to recovery
Drug addiction is an illness that can have an impact on an individual’s everyday functioning. It is characterized by intense and uncontrollable cravings for the drug and can produce behavioural and personality changes like irritability, restlessness and anxiety. It clouds a person’s sense of judgement blurring the boundaries between the right and wrong. Therefore, help should be sought at the earliest, because delaying the matter will worsen the condition.
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