Melbourne scientists searching for new ways to fight chronic pain
Press Release | December 5, 2017

The Herald Sun published an article about the work of CBNS member Dr Nicholas Veldhuis on developing new ways to block pain by re-engineering drugs to hit targets inside the nerve cells in the spine.


The Article


Melbourne scientists are developing new ways to block pain by re-engineering drugs to hit targets inside the nerve cells in the spine.

New, potent and long-lasting pain relief medications are desperately needed to help the estimated 20 per cent of Australians suffering chronic pain. “There is currently an opioid epidemic,” said Dr Nicholas Veldhuis, from the Aus­tralian Research Council Centre for Bio-Nano Science. “These painkillers have problematic side effects, such as addiction and tolerance, so we need to develop new drugs to relieve pain.”

Research internationally and in Melbourne is helping to achieve this ambitious goal. When people experience pain, for instance touching a hot stove, chemical messengers called neurotransmitters send pain signals to the spine and the brain. They “talk” to tiny receptors sitting on the surface of nerve cells in the spine waiting to receive messages.

Traditional pain drugs target these receptors, but Dr Veldhuis, who is also from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said scientists discovered when these receptors received information at a cell’s surface, some of them actually moved into the inner chambers of the nerve cell. This manoeuvre may help them evade current pain relief medication.

Together with collaborations at Columbia University and the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, the team are now developing new types of drugs and re-engineering existing ones to go inside the nerve cell. The aim is for the drug to stop the receptors from telling the brain about the pain. Powerful painkillers have problematic side effects.

While still in early preclinical and animals studies, Dr Veldhuis said their preliminary studies indicated this approach was effective. The most recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals blocking one of the key pain receptors responsible for migraine and other pain conditions was like “putting a handbrake on spinal neurons and persistent pain”.

Macquarie University’s Professor Mark Connor, an independent expert in pharmacology, said the discovery a few years ago that the receptors moved inside the cell and continued to signal was an important and interesting concept. “This is a new avenue for potentially blocking their activity, which could be useful for pain relief,” Prof Connor said.


This article was written by Lucie van den Berg and published in the Herald Sun (1