A recent study from the University of Calgary suggests that anti-cancer medications, rather than opioid-based pain medication, might be used to treat chronic pain.
Researchers discovered a chemical in the neurological system that increases pain sensitivity. This chemical was previously assumed to play a function in cancer progression, but its presence in the nervous system had never been described. It may now be able to employ current anti-cancer medications to inhibit pain by targeting this molecule.
Dr. Christophe Altier, PhD, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Inflammatory Pain, and his colleagues discovered the existence of a chemical in the nervous system that increases sensitivity to pain by analysing a large number of genes involved in the transmission of pain information to the brain.
This chemical was previously assumed to play a function in cancer progression, but its presence in the nervous system had never been described. It may now be feasible to inhibit pain with readily available anti-cancer medications.
“The most exciting part of this discovery is that we don’t need to develop a new drug,” says Dr. Christophe Altier, PhD, associate professor at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) and member of the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases at the CSM. “We’ve shown that an existing drug, approved in the treatment of cancer, can be repurposed to treat pain.”
Altier’s team discovered that medications routinely used to treat lung cancer and a form of brain cancer might be useful in managing pain in mice. The researchers carefully examined for pain caused by nerve damage and inflammation and discovered that the cancer medications performed extremely effectively.
Research for other pain
The next step is to seek financing for clinical studies to examine if those suffering from chronic diseases like stomach pain and post-surgery pain would enjoy the same beneficial outcomes.
Because the drugs being used already exist and have been proven safe, the timeline for this treatment to become a reality will be shorter than if they had to develop new medications. Altier has already filed a patent application for this novel treatment with study co-author Dr. Gerald Zamponi, PhD, professor at the CSM and member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.
The discovery will be welcome news for chronic pain sufferers who in the future might have the option to stop taking potentially addictive opioids that require increases in doses over time to remain effective.
“With these anti-cancer drugs, there is no effect on tolerance,” says Dr. Manon Defaye, PhD, first author on the paper. “We don’t need to increase the dose of the drug to obtain pain relief.”
Follow Medically Speaking on Instagram