April 24 (UPI) -- A new pain-relieving compound eventually could be as effective as opioid-based drugs, such as morphine and oxycodone, but not carry some of the risks or drawbacks of them, according to research with mice.
University of Michigan researchers found the compound has the same pain-relieving properties as widely-used, and overused, opioid painkillers, but shows the promise of being non-addictive. The findings were presented during the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting this week in San Diego. An abstract of the study has been published ahead of its presentation.
With data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that more than 42,000 Americans die from opioid overdoses each year, the researchers were seeking an alternative to standard pain relievers. With current opioid-centered treatments, patients can develop tolerance, leading to greater doses being necessary to maintain efficacy.
"Our hope is that with our novel opioids, patients would need less of the drug over time, which might put them less at risk for the negative side effects of opioid usage, including addiction, respiratory depression and constipation," research team member Nicholas Griggs, a doctoral candidate in Michigan's Department of Pharmacology, said in a press release.
The researchers chemically modified compounds based on pain-relieving peptides naturally released by neurons. In cultured cells, they worked on compounds that could provide pain relief, reduce addiction and avoid tolerance.
A lead compound was tested in mice. Although it produced pain-relieving effects, it was not effective in tests for reward and dependence, which can lead to addiction and withdrawal.
"We are striving to solve the opioid epidemic by working at the most fundamental problem: the effective treatment of pain," said Tomas Joaquín Fernández, a postbaccalaeureate researcher in Michigan's Department of Pharmacology and Edward F Domino Research Center. "Our work can also provide other researchers with a better understanding of opioid receptors and interactions between receptors, which could be exploited to develop better options for pain management."
The researchers plan to conduct further studies of animal behavior to better explore reductions in tolerance and dependence of the new compound.