Stopping Pain Impulses Before They Reach the Brain

Carolyn FairbanksKeeping painkilling drugs out of the brain would prevent drug addiction. 

Pharmaceutics Professor Carolyn Fairbanks seeks that goal, as well as ways to stop pain impulses before they reach the brain.

“The burden of chronic pain for individuals and for our society, our community, is very great,” said Fairbanks. She explains that keeping pain impulses and potentially addictive painkilling drugs away from the brain means restricting them to peripheral areas like skin and internal organs or to the spinal cord.

Besides finding drugs to act in these areas, she is researching a gene therapy approach to pain relief. With that method, neurons in the periphery or spinal cord would be engineered to produce inhibitory signals that could halt pain impulses en route to the brain, which would therwise interpret the impulses as pain.

When opioid medication acts in the brain, addiction can arise in some patients. However, if pain-relieving treatments can stop the pain impulses before they reach the brain—for example, in the spinal cord or peripheral nerves—this would greatly reduce the risk of developing an addiction.