Opioid-Free Pain Relief That Works

Researchers have developed a new treatment for pain that combines the efficacy of opioids with the safety of a local anesthetic.

body pain.

You’ve had surgery, the anesthesia is wearing off, and the pain begins. Do you reach for the dependably potent hydrocodone, despite its adverse side effects and risks? Or do you play it safe and grab the acetaminophen, knowing it probably won’t do much to stop the pain?

Soon, thanks to research conducted at the University at Buffalo, there may be a third option: one that’s effective, long-lasting and safe.

Signaling pain to the brain

The researchers began by looking at the origin of inflammatory pain. “Pain is usually considered a symptom of injury,” explains senior author Arin Bhattacharjee, associate professor in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB. “Pain neurons transmit their information to the brain, informing the brain of both the location of the injury and the severity of the injury.”

The researchers discovered that a particular type of pain neuron, which activates in response to injury, can transmit that information to the brain only if it goes through a process called endocytosis, whereby cells absorb external matter. The researchers surmised that inhibiting that process—and thus the signaling—would effectively prevent the sensation of pain. And they were right.

The researchers then developed two sets of modified peptides (sort of a mini-protein), one of which disrupts the process of endocytosis when injected directly into the site of injury. These peptides, which UB has filed patents on, “provide long-lasting pain relief after a single administration,” says Bhattacharjee.

Long-lasting relief, high demand

A huge advantage of locally delivered drugs such as this is that most adverse side effects are avoided, including the risk of addiction. A major downside is that the drugs tend to diffuse away quickly from the site of administration.

But not the peptides. In the study, a single administration decreased pain for up to six days in multiple models of inflammatory pain. “Our novel technology seems to solve this problem by getting into nerve endings and staying there,” Bhattacharjee says.

The researchers also confirmed gender differences in the experience of pain, which have been noted in prior clinical studies. They found that the peptide was more effective in females than males when administered at the time of injury, but more effective in males than females when the pain was already established.

Gender differences will be an important consideration as researchers take their next steps toward clinical testing in humans, which, says Bhattacharjee, can’t come a moment too soon. Since publication, he says, “people have contacted us asking to enroll in test trials of our peptides. They don’t want to use opioids. The demand out there for something different is immense.”