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Researchers developing drugs to treat pain, memory and addiction

08-18 | By CSAA Team

Researchers developing drugs to treat pain, memory and addiction

Though pain, memory problems and nicotine addiction have the same underlying brain-related causes, these three formidable trio elicit a number of harmful consequences that are quite different in nature. Because of this close connection in the functioning of the brain, medical practitioners and experts are trying to find out the most effective treatment that has the potential to alleviate all the three above-mentioned problems. A team of researchers is trying to develop a new type of drug that would enhance the brain activity of the receptors linked to problems related to memory, pain and nicotine addiction.

The objective of the entire research is to not make any changes in chemistry of the brain, but ensure the proper functioning of the receptors. Such an approach may not inflict any major side effects as in the case of other medications. With the growing menace of opioid painkillers and spike in smoking and Alzheimer’s disease, such a novel treatment will herald a new world for the patients.

Since the brain plays a crucial role in triggering and aggravating substance abuse in a person by affecting reward responses and cravings, it is essential to find a treatment that targets the underlying cause. However, there is much work waiting ahead in terms of designing and development of the drug.

Role of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors

The study of the brain structure has revealed to scientists that there are nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the brain that are responsible for a person’s addiction to nicotine, as well as muscle contraction, sleep modulation, attention, memory and learning. In their latest study, the team of researchers was able to identify a structural difference in one type of receptor that contributes to pain, cognitive problems and nicotine addiction.

The team of researchers from Texas A&M University who published their study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry are working on developing drugs to boost the function of neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the brain for managing neurological disorders and nicotine addiction. They want to develop a drug, which is much more selective than anything currently available in the market.

The current class of drugs that treat nicotine addiction target the nicotine receptors in the brain, which replaces nicotine and thereby blocks nicotine cravings. However, the problem arises when these drugs start binding at different nicotine receptors along with those linked to nicotine addiction. As a result, the patients report a number of changes in their behavior, mood, sleep, etc. Many of them have also reported experiencing serious side effects, such as depression and suicidal thoughts. Besides, only 22 percent of smokers end up quitting cigarettes.

After years of research, the team could form an accurate picture of the structure of the binding sites of acetylcholine and agonists (An agonist is a compound that binds to and activates a receptor), and what an agonist should be like. The problem however is that an agonist that resembles nicotinic acetylcholine will activate multiple nicotinic acetylcholine receptor types because of which multiple side effects may occur.

According to one of the researchers and spokesperson Ayman K. Hamouda, assistant professor in pharmaceutical sciences and neuroscience & experimental therapeutics at Texas A&M University, the approach is to develop modulators that will enhance and boost but not replace acetylcholine in the brain. This approach will be safer as the pattern of neural activity will remain unchanged and it will only serve to amplify the extent of the neural activity to a higher level. This will enhance memory in people with the reduced levels of acetylcholine receptors by making the remaining receptors work harder. Another possible application is in alleviating pain without the potential for abuse that are prevalent in opioid analgesics.

Although the drug is still in its preliminary stage of development, there is hope of using it to even substitute opioids to treat pain due to the absence of addictive qualities. Hence, this drug would potentially target three problem areas without the associated side effects.

Advanced treatment knocking at door

Though such novel treatments hold many promises for the patients and medical practitioners, it would not be a one-stop solution for all, especially in the case of substance use disorder (SUD). There is still a lot of hard work involved to reach closer to the above goal. Meanwhile, it is essential to spread awareness on the adverse side effects of opioids and substance abuse to dissuade youngsters from falling into a vicious cycle of SUD and mental disorders.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, contact the Colorado Substance Abuse Advisors for information about the state-of-the-art substance abuse treatment centers in Colorado. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-300-5857 or chat online with our representatives for further information about the evidence-based substance abuse treatment programs in Colorado.

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