The science of pain is intriguing. It wasn’t all that long ago that a shot of whiskey was the pain reliever of choice. Modern medicine has since become acquainted with aspirin and ibuprofen for treating minor aches, various forms of anesthesia for use in operations, and different formulations of opium, for addressing chronic pain. Chronic pain has proven particularly challenging though, because opioid based medicine has proven to be highly addictive. That’s why research on (1) a new class of non-opioid pain killer reported on at ScienceMag.org, and (2) an anti-heroin vaccine developed by The Scripps Institute (“TSI”), hold out such promise.
Non-Opioid Pain Relief
Researchers report they’ve discovered a new molecule that halts pain and eliminates addiction, while limiting interference with healthy cell function. This finding could have a huge impact because pain and addiction typically have similar biochemical roots, making treatment difficult without affecting normal cell activity. For example, opioids interrupt pain by affecting certain enzymes known as ACs (adenylyl cyclases), but that in turn makes other functions of the cell skyrocket, triggering addiction. This new process avoids that problem by targeting only one of the ACs (out of 10), minimizing negative changes in the cells.
Researchers came upon this molecule after studying a plant compound known as Forskolin, which actually supercharges the AC enzyme. However, drugs that increase an enzyme’s output can often be used to decrease it as well, because they interact with the same target site. In doing so, the scientists were able to create a compound that reduces sensitivity to pain with the same potency as an opioid, but without the addictive side effects.
We at InRecovery magazine originally wrote about TSI back in May, regarding an innovative new medical technique they were working on to help the brain forget it’s addicted. It seems they’ve now come up with another great prospect.
Working in conjunction with Virginia Commonwealth University, TSI has created an anti-heroin vaccine that works by exposing a person’s immune system to the heroin molecule. This, in turn, teaches the immune system to produce antibodies against the drug, preventing the heroin molecules from reaching the brain and causing feelings of euphoria. Testing done on primates has demonstrated effects lasting as long as 8 months. The vaccine, 8 years in the making, only seems to work for heroin and not opioid based pain killers, at the moment, but research continues.
Unfortunately, neither of these positive developments will be available at your local drug store any time soon. Scientists are still working through some of the pitfalls, and need to conduct additional studies prior to clinical trials. However, given the inherent problems with opioids and the need to treat chronic pain, these preliminary results are certainly welcome news.