Scientists find new treatment for chronic neuropathic pain

University at Buffalo researchers who previously discovered how chronic neuropathic pain arises in the brain have now developed a treatment to block it.

They found an entirely new procedure and novel target in the brain to alleviate chronic pain in humans.

The finding is particularly important given the current national opioid epidemic and the strong need for new methods for treating chronic pain.

The study was done by scientists in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

Unlike acute pain that occurs in response to a sudden injury, chronic neuropathic pain can develop slowly in response to nerve damage that occurs over time.

It is a growing global problem seen increasingly among patients with diseases, such as diabetes, stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, and cancer.

In the study, the new, minimally invasive procedure utilizes delivery of an antibody that targets and thus blocks the pro-inflammatory protein called tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF), specifically in the brain.

The new method originated with the UB researchers’ discovery in 1999 of TNF, a novel therapeutic target, specifically in the brain.

They previously demonstrated that peripheral nerve injury—injury to the nerves connecting the spinal cord to the rest of the body—boosts levels of this protein in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, and which they have recently found to be involved in the experience of chronic pain.

The team showed for the first time, that effective pain relief in an animal model could be achieved by direct brain delivery accomplished with a simple peripheral (outside of the brain and spinal cord) injection in the neck of an anti-TNF drug.

The possibility of an effective and safe new treatment method for chronic neuropathic pain would be welcome news, since treatments have so far proven to have side effects, including addiction, and result in limited relief of pain.

The research is groundbreaking because it demonstrates a way to get to the root of chronic neuropathic pain in the brain in a minimally invasive way.

The researchers are now studying how blocking TNF activity in the brain produces analgesia, relief from pain, including determining the receptor and signaling pathways, and which cell types and brain regions are involved.

One author of the study is Tracey Ignatowski, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences.

The study is published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

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