New pain-relief drug shapes as less addictive alternative to morphine
Opiates have brought pain relief to humankind for hundreds of years, but they don't come without consequences; Motor impairment, respiratory depression and the risk of addiction. Researchers have now developed a new strong painkiller they claim comes without the unwanted baggage.
Scientists engineered a version of a chemical called endomorphin, which occurs naturally in the body. The peptide-based drug targets the same pain-relieving opioid receptor as morphine, so by measuring their performance side-by-side the researchers aimed to establish how its safety and effectiveness stacked up.
"These side effects were absent or reduced with the new drug," says leader of the research James Zadina, professor of medicine, pharmacology and neuroscience at Tulane University School of Medicine. "It's unprecedented for a peptide to deliver such powerful pain relief with so few side effects."
The team also carried out experiments to test how addictive the new drug might be. It found that while rats would spend more time in a compartment where they had received morphine, treatment with the endomorphin did not induce this behavior. It also rigged up a system where both groups of rats could press a bar to receive a dose of their drug, but only the morphine-treated group showed increased efforts to secure further helpings. Zadina says these tests are predictive of human drug abuse.
Furthermore, endomorphin did not result in spinal glial cell activation, an established effect of morphine that is known to help build up tolerance of the drug and in turn abuse or risk of overdose. The researchers are hopeful of commencing human clinical trials within the next two years.