University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston researchers have been awarded a five-year, $1.8 million grant by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to apply the techniques of gene therapy to the problem of neuropathic pain that is, pain that arises from a malfunction in the nervous system.
Neuropathic pain is a daily reality for millions of Americans, manifesting itself in a variety of life-impairing ways. Someone suffering from neuropathic pain might feel intense discomfort in response to a light touch, for example, or suddenly feel as though he or she were freezing in response to a small decrease in temperature. Caused by either accidental or disease-induced nerve damage, this kind of pain has proven very difficult to treat.
"Patients in neuropathic pain are willing to do almost anything to get relief," said Dr. Volker Neugebauer, the co-principal investigator on the grant. "They're in torment, often in really desperate situations."
To make matters worse, long-term neuropathic pain often causes depression, acting through emotional mechanisms in the brain meant to underscore the importance of pain signals. Depression further increases the perception of pain, creating a vicious cycle of increasing pain and depression. And while conventional pain medicines can block the pain signal, they are usually successful for only a limited time only; eventually the pain returns when the nervous system compensates for the blockade.
Neugebauer and his UTMB colleague and co-principal investigator Thomas Green believe that a better anti-neuropathic pain strategy is to target higher brain regions and prevent the abnormal generation of persistent emotions. They focus on the amygdala, a structure best known for its role in emotional responses, including anxiety and depression and in Neugebauer's previous work for its connection to pain regulation. Neugebauer and Green hypothesize that stopping abnormal activity in
|Contact: Jim Kelly|
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston