Scripps Research Institute Researchers Work on Non-Addictive Painkiller

JUPITER, Fla. – It’s a crisis with a high cost in South Florida and across the country. The cost is measured in lives lost and taxpayer dollars spent. It’s a crisis with no end in sight. A group of researchers at Scripps Research Institute in Jupiter believe they could be close to a solution.

They’re developing a non-addictive pain killer.

“We’re all working on to try to make compounds, drugs that would induce pain relieving systems and not induce reward feelings or euphoric feelings,” said Associate Professor Laura Bohn with the Scripps Research Institute.

In order to do that they have to study many different aspects in understanding what makes oxycodone and vicodine so addictive.

“What turns on rewarding feelings? What in the brain makes you feel this euphoria and the desire to have it again?” Bohn said.

Several researchers with different specialties are working together on the project.

“We’re taking a unique approach, in a way that, to my knowledge no other research group in the world is using,” said Brock Grill with Scripps.

They’re also looking into how addictive drugs impact the brains of babies.

Associate Professor Courtney Miller with Scripps said mothers who are taking opioid painkillers while breastfeeding can still pass on the drug to their children.

“This can lead to problems with impulse control which is linked to things like ADHD,” Miller said.

Florida Atlantic University is building a new Brain Institute. Nicole Baganz, a research assistant professor there, said she has a very personal reason to be in this field.

“My sister died at the age of 18 in Orlando from a heroin overdose,” Baganz said. “That’s what made me want to get into neuroscience. I thought there has to be a way to understand what her brain was doing to help fix other people who struggle with the same issue.”

Researchers at Scripps believe they’re close to having a non-addictive painkiller.

“It’s looking very promising,” Miller said. “But I would say it’s going to take a few years because it has to go through a lot of safety testing.”

Miller and others at Scripps fear that all their progress could suddenly come to a halt.

“If we cut that 18 percent (from the budget) that would be crippling,” said Laura Niederhofer with Scripps.

President Trump’s budget blueprint released last month suggested an 18 percent cut to the National Institutes of Health.

Much of Scripps’ research is funded by the NIH.

“An 18% cut would result in lay offs, halting of programs, failure to fund no research grants,” Grill said.

Their message to the administration is clear.

“Fund science,” Grill said. “It’s a nonpartisan endeavor. Anything that comes from science benefits everyone.”

Grill and other scientists from Scripps and the Max Planck Institute will join the March for Science in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.

Grill said the proposed budget cuts have hit a nerve in the science community and they will be fighting to keep the U.S. number one in research.

There will be a satellite march in West Palm Beach, the Treasure Coast and Fort Lauderdale. The West Palm Beach march will start at 9 a.m. at the Meyer Amphitheater.


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