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UM researcher identifies novel treatment for pain in sickle cell disease
Date:7/22/2010

A University of Minnesota Medical School research team led by Kalpna Gupta, Ph.D., has discovered that cannibinoids offer a novel approach to ease the chronic and acute pain caused by sickle cell disease (SCD).

Using a mouse model of SCD, Gupta and University of Minnesota colleagues studied the pain mechanisms by observing animals that exhibited both musculoskeletal pain and temperature sensitivity, symptoms similarly experienced by humans with SCD. The team compared two classifications of drugs in their ability to manage pain sensed by the animals, the traditionally prescribed classification of drugs, opioids, with a new therapeutic approach, cannabinoids, a synthetic compound based on marijuana derivatives. Currently, the only approved treatment for management of severe pain in SCD is opioids.

Using confocal miscroscopy, a precise type of laser scanning that allowed the researchers to observe the nerve pathways of the animals, Gupta and her colleagues were able to study structural changes in the neural pathways that are activated when the animal is sensing pain. When comparing the effects that each classification of drug had on the animal's level of pain, Gupta discovered that both opioids and cannibinoids equally lessened the amount of pain the animals sensed. However, researchers were able to use much smaller doses of cannibinoids to achieve the same level of pain relief. Moreover, because researchers injected the cannibinoids directly into the body in such low doses, unwanted side effects that result from higher doses of the drug reacting in the brain were minimized.

"This paper provides proof that we can use other classifications of drugs to treat pain in patients with sickle cell disease," Gupta said. "Cannibinoids offer great promise in the treatment of chronic and acute pain, and they're effective in much lower amounts than opioidsthe only currently approved treatment for this disease."

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Contact: Laura Stroup
lstroup@umn.edu
612-624-9912
University of Minnesota
Source:Eurekalert

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