We may be one step closer to stopping the opioid crisis. Scientists at the University of North Carolina have conducted research, published in the journalthat shows a route toward creating opioids that relieve pain without causing the severe side effects at the heart of the opioid epidemic.
For the first time, scientists at the University ofeNorth Carolina School of Medicine and collaborators solved the crystal structure of the activated kappa opioid receptor bound to a morphine derivative. They then created a new drug-like compound that activates only that receptor, a key step in the development of better pain medications.
Rachel Lankford, 24, started abusing drugs when she was 13. By the time she was 22, she had experienced a lifetime's worth of trauma: She had a gun held to her head as her house was robbed by an ex-boyfriend, she watched loved ones overdose, she went to rehab twice and also spent time in jail.
Opioids have long been an important tool in the world of pain management, but the side effects of these drugs – from addiction and respiratory failure to severe itching and dizziness, can be overwhelming. Scientists have been trying to understand how these side effects happen so they can create better, less problematic pain relievers.
You take a drug. It does what it’s supposed to do. And it does some other things you wish it didn’t, such as produce drastic side effects. Nearly half of all drugs hit G protein-coupled receptors (GCPRs) in the surface membranes of cells. One such drug is morphine. Another is oxycodone. The main side effect of these drugs, aside from addiction, is that they affect receptors in such a way that they can cause a person to stop breathing.
Four researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were granted five awards totaling more than $7 million in the second round of the NIH BRAIN Initiative awards – Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies – the announcement of which coincided today with President Obama’s White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh, PA.
An international research team – led by scientists at UC San Francisco, Stanford University, the University of North Carolina (UNC), and the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany – has developed a new opioid drug candidate that blocks pain without triggering the dangerous side effects of current prescription painkillers. Their secret? They started from scratch.
Mark Zylka never set out to find the neurological causes for autism. He cut his teeth studying chronic pain. But while collaborating on a project with UNC School of Medicine colleague Ben Philpot, Zylka serendipitously found that when specific brain enzymes are impaired, some of the genes implicated in autism are affected. So the big question for Zylka became: what can foul up those enzymes and potentially cause autism?
Unintentional overdose deaths in teens and adults have reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. In some 20 states in 2007 the number of unintentional drug poisoning deaths exceeded either motor vehicle crashes or suicides, two of the leading causes of injury death. Prescription opioid pain medications are driving this overdose epidemic. Opioid pain medications were also involved in about 36 percent of all poisoning suicides in the U.S. in 2007.