A new engineered painkiller is currently being researched that acts on pain like a prescription opioid, but has been shown to not be addictive in an animal study, the Los Angeles Times reports.
This week, a researcher from the University of Michigan Medical School, Tomas Joaquin Fernandez, described a process for designing opioid-like medications that would act on pain receptors in the brain, while blocking the receptors responsible for building dependence and tolerance.
Using pain-relieving peptides released by the brain as models, Fernandez and his colleagues developed a library of “peptidomimetics.” These agents were small enough to reach the brain, and they worked on different opioid receptors in different ways.
When the team of researchers tested one of these compounds in mice, they found that it not only relieved pain, but it also fostered less tolerance and less physical dependence than morphine. In other words, the researchers found this compound to be less addictive.
“We are striving to solve the opioid epidemic by working at the most fundamental problem: the effective treatment of pain,” said Fernandez, whose work was presented during the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego. “Our work can also provide other researchers with a better understanding of opioid receptors and interactions between receptors, which could be exploited to develop better options for pain management.”