Published April 10, 2013
The five-year grant is from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Li's goal is to develop new pharmacotherapies for various chronic pain conditions by targeting imidazoline I2 receptors. Such analgesics would have novel mechanisms of action that avoid the side effects and drawbacks of opioids.
"This is significant because we don't have good treatments for many chronic pain conditions," Li explains. Traditional opioid treatments do not relieve some types of pain, including neuropathic pain, and they can lead to dependence.
Li's team will use in vivo models of human neuropathy and arthritis-related pain to study whether drugs working on these receptors can relieve both acute and long-term pain. The researchers also will assess the unwanted effects of such treatments.
In addition, the researchers will study the effects of imidazoline I2 receptor agonists alone and in combination with morphine.
“Like the treatment of cancer and hypertension, combining two analgesics that work through different mechanisms may achieve the same or bigger therapeutic effects with smaller doses, which in turn may produce less side effects, such as tolerance and addiction,” Li says.
The new study will build on Li’s prior research identifying these receptors as promising therapeutic targets for acute pain relief.
Li's team is collaborating with a medicinal chemist in North Carolina to develop novel medications.