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SLU Researchers Awarded $2.1 Million to Find New Pain-Killing Options

by Carrie Bebermeyer on 08/16/2019
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Daniela Salvemini, Ph.D.

Daniela Salvemini, Ph.D., has spent her career studying chronic neuropathic pain. Salvemini is professor and interim chair of pharmacology and physiology at SLU and also directs The Henry and Amelia Nasrallah Center for Neuroscience at Saint Louis University. 

Addressing Desperate Need for Better Pain Meds, SLU Scientists at The Henry and Amelia Nasrallah Center for Neuroscience Search for Non-Addictive Alternatives

Neuropathic pain affects between 15 and 20 million people in the U.S. This type of pain can occur after injuries to the nervous system due to trauma, disease or exposure to neurotoxins, including after chemotherapy.

Exceedingly difficult to treat, these injuries cause chronic changes in sensitivity to both harmful and harmless stimuli. There is a desperate need for new medications that do not cause side effects and addiction the way narcotic pain killers do.

Saint Louis University pain researcher Daniela Salvemini, Ph.D., has spent her career studying chronic neuropathic pain in order to find new ways to treat it with non-opioid based medicines. Thanks to a new $2,156,764 grant from the National Institutes of Health, she will investigate a promising but little understood pain signaling pathway in the hopes of opening up a new avenue for pain medication research.

“The discovery of new leads for non-addictive pain medications will have a huge impact for helping chronic pain patients,” Salvemini said.  

Salvemini, who is professor and interim chair of pharmacology and physiology at SLU, also directs The Henry and Amelia Nasrallah Center for Neuroscience at Saint Louis University. Comprised of nearly 80 members across 27 departments, the Center aims to unlock the mysteries of the nervous system in health and disease through multi-disciplinary neuroscience research.

In the current study, Salvemini will collaborate with Center member Gina Yosten, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and physiology at SLU.

The researchers will build on previous research that suggests that turning off a small molecule, GPR160, could also turn off pain.

GPR160 is expressed in the central nervous system, including in the spinal cord. Research suggests that signals sent in the spinal cord by GPR160, along with CARTp, (peptides whose levels increase following exposure to substances like cocaine and amphetamines), are essential for the development and persistence of neuropathic pain.

Salvemini and her team hope that blocking this nervous system pathway could be a strategy for new drugs that could stop pain without side effects.

In past studies Salvemini and her team found that GPR160 shows promise for non-addictive pain control therapies.

"We also are grateful to the NIH/NINDS for funding our work. This continues to not only validate our research efforts but also help us grow our scientific programs towards the discovery of novel non-opioid based pain medicines,” Salvemini said.

“I also am very excited about this collaboration within The Henry and Amelia Nasrallah Center for Neuroscience Center and department of pharmacology and physiology. Such synergy is almost certain to lead to new discoveries that will ultimately lead to better patient care,” she added.

Gina Yosten, Ph.D.

Gina Yosten, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and physiology at SLU.  Photo by Ellen Hutti.

Salvemini’s collaborative partner Yosten also hopes the research will lead to new options for people who suffer with neuropathic pain.

“For me, this is personal. My mother has been suffering from severe chemotherapy-induced neuropathic pain since completing her treatment for breast cancer almost 10 years ago,” said Yosten. “I am very excited to be a part of this collaboration with Dr. Salvemini to investigate possible new therapies to help my mother and the thousands of patients like her suffering from neuropathic pain associated with cancer treatment.”

Other Saint Louis University researchers on the study include Willis Samson, Ph.D., D.Sc, professor of pharmacology and physiology,  Tim Doyle, Ph.D., associate research professor of pharmacology and physiology and Grant Kolar, M.D., Ph.D. , assistant research professor of pathology.

Take-aways

Saint Louis University School of Medicine

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: cancer, liver disease, heart/lung disease, aging and brain disease, and infectious diseases.

The Henry and Amelia Nasrallah Center for Neuroscience at Saint Louis University

As a pioneering leader in the field, the Center advances neuroscience research, education, clinical care and outreach activities across Saint Louis University and the broader St. Louis community, advancing SLU researchers' discoveries in the field of neuroscience that will have a major impact in patient care and in society.