Cell transplants to treat the 'disease' of chronic pain
Many chronic pain conditions result from alterations in the how the central nervous system processes injury messages. In this respect, chronic pain is a “disease” of the nervous system, rather than a symptom of some other condition. Allan Basbaum’s laboratory studies mechanisms by which tissue and nerve injury induce chronic pain. To determine whether different features of the pain experience are evoked by the activity of selected subsets of nerve (“pain”) fibers or by patterns of activity generated across populations of pain fibers, his lab studies pain behavior in experimental animals with deletions of different genes that code for molecules that transmit injury messages. Recently, his lab initiated a parallel series of studies that examine the circuits that underlie the production of itch, which like pain, is a stimulus-evoked, highly motivating perception. And with a view to long-term management of chronic pain and itch, his lab is transplanting inhibitory cell precursors into the spinal cord to determine whether re-establishing inhibitory control circuitry lost after injury can treat the “disease” of chronic pain and itch. To date Dr. Basbuam’s lab has shown that the cells indeed integrate into the host and can ameliorate the persistent pain and itch associated with nerve damage. The hope is that this approach can be translated to the clinic.
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