Highly addictive opioid drugs have claimed over 125,000 lives since 2018. In an effort to mitigate pain without causing addiction, biochemists are pursuing an opioid formula that would be all business and no pleasure.
Dr. Tao Che, an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina, recently published in SciTechDaily about his and his colleagues’ efforts to engineer a non-addictive opioid for treating pain. The basis for the research involves the receptors in the brain that interact with opioids: mu-opioid receptors (MORs).
These MORs block pain in specific parts of the brain when they are stimulated by opioids. However, there are also MORs in the brain stem and nucleus accumbens. The MORs in the brain stem can reduce breathing function when interacting with opioids and the MORs in the nucleus accumbens trigger a pleasure response, potentially leading to addiction.
Dr. Che and his colleagues are exploring a different opioid receptor called “kappa opioid receptors” (KORs). Drugs that interact with KORs still block pain, but they do not interact the same way with the brain stem or nucleus accumbens. This means that drugs targeting the KOR will still reduce pain, without being detrimental to breathing function, nor will they be addictive.
This research could go a long way towards ending the opioid epidemic triggered by the reckless actions of traditional opioid manufacturers.
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