Researchers discover new way to treat chronic neuropathic pain

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 a recent study from the University at Buffalo, researchers developed a new treatment to block chronic neuropathic pain.

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

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

The study is published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. One author is Tracey Ignatowski, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences.

In the study, the new, minimally invasive procedure utilizes the 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.

In the study, 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 team is 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.

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