Gene therapy for chronic pain might sound science-fiction for some, but researchers are looking into it.
In a recent episode of Causes or Cures, I chatted with Dr. Raj Khanna, director of NYU’s Pain Research Center and professor of molecular pathobiology at NYU School of Dentistry, about his and his team’s new research on potential future ways to tackle chronic pain. Given that chronic pain is a growing issue that impacts people of all ages and that there really are no good, long-term, reliable solutions out there, this is a key area of research. Without reliable, long-term solutions from conventional medicine and therapies, many suffering from chronic pain seek out more alternative and unconventional approaches to find some relief. And now, as what’s happening at Dr. Khanna’s NYC-based lab, they are researching gene therapy for chronic pain. This is an especially timely topic given the ongoing US opioid epidemic. We can argue over what caused or what fueled the opioid epidemic, but rise in prescription opioids coincided with the medical establishment acknowledging pain as a “5th vital sign.” Previously, I’ve had experts on the podcast discuss different things related to the opioid epidemic. For example, Dr. Currie at Princeton University came on to explain her research on why the epidemic was not caused by economic distress (something which is often cited) but other factors, and a mom came on to discuss what it was like to lose her son to the opioid epidemic and what it was like to confront members of the Sackler Family, the notorious family that owned Purdue Pharma and purposely undermined the addictive nature of opioids. In an upcoming Causes or Cures Podcast that is still in the editing phase, I will explore a new perspective on the opioid epidemic: One with a physician who was busted by the DEA (who sent a fake patient to his clinic) and was imprisoned for how he prescribed opioids.
In this podcast, Dr. Khanna starts with the basics and defines chronic pain and its causes. He describes his and his team’s research and why a “special” sodium channel and a “special” protein that regulates this sodium channel are important when it comes to regulating chronic pain. (Gene therapy for chronic pain is a complicated subject, but he breaks it down as much as possible.) He explains how he and his team used gene therapy to influence the interaction of the “special” protein and sodium channel, tested their hypothesis in animals and cells, and the results and outcomes related to chronic pain. Towards the end of the podcast, he discusses if the field may move towards replacing animals in research with other ways to test treatments, alternative approaches to chronic pain, and what the future of chronic pain treatment may look like. I hope you listen to the end because he says some really interesting things about green light therapy and chronic pain.
Please click here to listen to the podcast!