I am driven to create localized pain relievers that won’t reach the brain

Keeping pain relieving drugs out of the brain would prevent drug addiction. Pharmaceutics professor Carolyn Fairbanks seeks that goal, as well as ways to stop pain impulses before they reach the brain.

The search for nonaddictive pain relief

Carolyn Fairbanks
“The burden of chronic pain for individuals and for our society, our community, is very great.” Carolyn Fairbanks, Professor Click to tweet

Carolyn Fairbanks wants to keep pain impulses and potentially addictive pain relieving drugs away from the brain. That means restricting them to peripheral areas like skin and internal organs or to the spinal cord.

Besides finding drugs to act in these areas, she is researching a gene therapy approach to pain relief. With that method, neurons in the periphery or spinal cord would be engineered to produce inhibitory signals that could halt pain impulses en route to the brain, which would otherwise interpret the impulses as pain.

Stopping pain impulses before they reach the brain

illistration of nerve signals reaching the brain on one figure, and being prevented from reaching the brain on the other

When opioid medication acts in the brain, addiction can arise in some patients. However, if pain-relieving treatments can stop the pain impulses before they reach the brain—for example, in the spinal cord or peripheral nerves—this would greatly reduce the risk of developing an addiction.