Study: Opioid-free alternative targets immune system to relieve pain

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin created an opioid-free painkiller that works by targeting receptors on immune cells, according to a study published July 5 in The Journal of Neuroscience.

For the study, researchers  added the experimental drug, called EMA401, to nerve cells from mice. They found the target site that causes pain was not in the nerve cell itself, but on a type of immune cell called immunal macrophages. "When we added macrophages to the dish alongside the nerve cells, the angiotensin could 'talk' to the macrophages, and then the macrophages 'talked' to the nerve cells, which then transmitted pain signals," said Andrew Shepherd, PhD, one of the researchers and an instructor in anesthesiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told Futurity

When researches reduced the number of macrophages found within the mice, the animals did not appear to feel pain. When the macrophages returned over the following days, so did their pain.

Researchers believe the drug shows promise as a new non-opioid treatment for chronic pain patients.

"The beauty of this drug is that, unlike an opioid, it doesn't cross the blood-brain barrier, so right away you eliminate a number of potentially harmful side effects, including addiction and the potential for abuse," Durga P. Mohapatra, PhD, co-investigator and associate professor in anesthesiology at Washington University School of Medicine, told Futurity. "And by widening the scope of potential targets to macrophages, it may be possible to develop more effective therapies for chronic, neuropathic pain."

More articles on opioids: 

Why states' opioid prescribing regulations may be a detriment to chronic pain patients
Pill curbs opioid addiction also poisons children
Geisinger slashes opioid prescriptions by 50% since 2014, saving $1M per year

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