SYDNEY, Australia — The ongoing opioid crisis in the United States has ruined countless lives, but these highly addictive drugs are still regularly prescribed due to their pain-numbing properties. However, a new way to manage pain may be on the way. For the first time ever, researchers at the University of Sydney have successfully used human stem cells to produce “pain-killing” neurons. These neurons were then tested on a group of lab mice that were dealing with extreme pain. After just a single treatment, the mice’s pain symptoms were relieved with no side effects.
Moving forward, scientists will perform additional tests on pigs and other rodents. Then, if all goes well, testing on human patients dealing with chronic pain should begin within the next five years. These pain-killing neurons could one day serve as a non-addictive, non-opioid pain management option for people all over the world.
“We are already moving towards testing in humans,” says Associate Professor Greg Neely, a leader in pain research at the Charles Perkins Centre and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, in a release. “Nerve injury can lead to devastating neuropathic pain and for the majority of patients there are no effective therapies. This breakthrough means for some of these patients, we could make pain-killing transplants from their own cells, and the cells can then reverse the underlying cause of pain.”
Researchers used human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), derived from bone marrow, to create the neurons in a lab setting. Then, the neurons were placed inside the spinal cords of mice dealing with constant neuropathic pain.
“Remarkably, the stem-cell neurons promoted lasting pain relief without side effects,” comments co-senior author Dr. Leslie Caron. “It means transplant therapy could be an effective and long-lasting treatment for neuropathic pain. It is very exciting.”
John Manion, the study’s lead author, adds: “Because we can pick where we put our pain-killing neurons, we can target only the parts of the body that are in pain. This means our approach can have fewer side effects.”
The study is published in Pain.