Chronic pain and misuse of substances, including opiates, cocaine, alcohol, and nicotine, are some of society’s most intractable problems that account for tremendous health care costs, in addition to incalculable pain and suffering. A renowned scientist at Florida Atlantic University’s Schmidt College of Medicine has received a $1.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a project titled, “Mixed NOP/MU Compounds and the Involvement of Their Receptors in Analgesia.”
Lawrence Toll, Ph.D., principal investigator of the grant, a professor of biomedical science in FAU’s College of Medicine, and a member of the FAU Brain Institute, has focused his research on the management of pain and drug addiction through pharmacology and new drug discovery. He is internationally recognized as the co-discoverer of the endogenous neuropeptide, nociception, which plays a role in the regulation of reward and motivation pathways related to substance misuse and in the regulation of pain pathways from the spinal cord to the brain.
With this latest National Institutes of Health grant, Toll will continue to examine chronic pain-induced changes in the NOP receptor in brain, spinal cord, and dorsal root ganglia to understand how this relates to the development and treatment of chronic pain.
“This National Institutes of Health grant awarded to Dr. Toll will help to address the many challenges associated with managing chronic pain, which affects more than 100 million Americans and costs about $600 billion a year in medical treatments and lost productivity,” said Phillip Boiselle, M.D., dean of FAU’s College of Medicine. “Dr. Toll’s ground-breaking work on the basic mechanisms and the biochemical basis of chronic pain and drug addiction have opened new avenues of research and identified novel drug targets to address both of these disorders, which have reached epidemic proportions.”
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 115 million Americans age 12 and older misused prescription pain medicine in 2016. In addition, about 948,000 Americans or 0.03 percent of the population in the United States age 12 and up used heroin in 2016. The number of overdose deaths related to heroin increased 533 percent between 2002 and 2016, from an estimated 2,089 in 2002 to 13,219 in 2016.
“Through this National Institutes of Health grant and other collaborations, we have identified novel compounds with high affinity to both NOP and mu receptors with varying in vivo profiles,” said Toll. “These could potentially be used to treat pain with a lower risk of abuse. Perhaps more interesting are our studies demonstrating changes in the NOP system subsequent to chronic pain. These studies may demonstrate cellular mechanisms for the transition from acute to chronic pain and identify selective NOP compounds as potential treatments for this condition. This could greatly reduce the need for long-term opiate use.”
This research is supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (R01DA023281) awarded to Toll.