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UA Health Sciences Researchers Seek to Treat Pain Caused by Chemotherapy Without Opioids

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Researchers at the University of Arizona Health Sciences are making progress in an effort to develop an effective treatment for neuropathic pain caused by chemotherapy – without using opioids.

Rajesh Khanna, PhD, professor of pharmacology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, said chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) – a result of damage to the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord – is detected in 64 percent of cancer patients during all phases of cancer, but no effective treatment exists. Chemotherapy remains a frontline treatment for many forms of cancer, but often causes severe side effects, including CIPN.

In response, Dr. Khanna and his research team are developing “potent and selective T-type calcium channel antagonists” as potential novel pain medicines to treat CIPN. Their goal is to provide pain relief to cancer patients, increase their compliance of chemotherapy and improve their well-being, he said.

Dr. Khanna also is scientific co-founder of Regulonix, LLC, a UA Health Sciences start-up company that received a $341,528 grant from the National Institutes of Health as part of the Helping to End Addiction Long-Term Initiative” (NIH HEAL Initiative), launched in 2018 to improve prevention and treatment strategies for opioid misuse and addiction and to enhance pain management.

Dr. Khanna, principal investigator of the study, said it represents the first step in developing non-opioid pain treatments for chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. Jun Wang, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the UA College of Pharmacy and a member of the UA BIO5 Institute, is a key collaborator on this study and created the original compounds that led to development of the compound being tested, which is called “UAWJ111.”

Although initial results in rodent models have been promising, the research is in its very early stages, Dr. Khanna cautioned, adding the team also seeks to determine if the new compound has significant side effects and potential for abuse – and whether it also might be effective for other types of pain. 

“It’s clear that a multi-pronged scientific approach is needed to reduce the risks of opioids, accelerate development of effective non-opioid therapies for pain and provide more flexible and effective options for treating addiction to opioids,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, who launched the initiative in early 2018. “This unprecedented investment in the NIH HEAL Initiative demonstrates the commitment to reversing this devastating crisis.”

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences

The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. The UA Health Sciences includes the UA Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the growing Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, the UA Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona and the greater Southwest to provide cutting-edge health education, research, patient care and community outreach services. A major economic engine, the UA Health Sciences employs approximately 4,000 people, has approximately 800 faculty members and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: uahs.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram)

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