A new form of painkillers has been developed by researchers from Charite – Universitatsmedizin Berlin that has been found to relieve pain without the potentially dangerous side effects associated with opioid use.
Opioids are commonly used to treat pain linked to tissue damage and inflammation that is often caused by surgery, nerve damage, arthritis, or cancer, and can cause a variety of negative side effects like drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, constipation, dependency, and respiratory arrest. Researchers have developed this new form of painkiller to function as a safer alternative for opioids.
Dr. Christoph Stein, head of the department of anesthesiology and surgical critical care medicine on campus Benjamin Franklin explained the goal of their study, stating, “By analyzing drug-opioid receptor interactions in damaged tissues, as opposed to healthy tissues, we were hoping to provide useful information for the design of new painkillers without harmful side effects.” Dr. Stein and his colleagues analyzed the way in which morphine-like molecules interact with opioid receptors in the brain and were able to pinpoint a new mechanism that is capable of relieving pain solely in the targeted tissues affected by inflammation, leaving healthy tissue alone.
The study’s first authors Dr. Viola Spahn and Dr. Giovanna Del Vecchio explained, “In contrast to conventional opioids, our NFEPP-prototype appears to only bind to, and activate, opioid receptors in an acidic environment. This means it produces pain relief only in injured tissues, and without causing respiratory depression, drowsiness, the risk of dependency, or constipation.”
The success of this prototype in both computer and animal models could lead to the development of painkillers that may be used in humans to provide pain relief without detrimental side effects. A pain relief option for issues related to tissue damage and inflammation that does not cause potentially dangerous side effects could improve the quality of life for many patients while minimizing their risk of suffering complications due to medication.