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Jan 6, 2022


Could Anthrax be the Key to Non-Opioid Pain Relief

A study published in the December 20 issue of “Nature Neuroscience” outlined the promise of Anthrax as a potential source of powerful pain relief. Anthrax has a deserved reputation for being a frightening illness. It causes lung infections and skin lesions in sufferers. It’s even been used as a terrorist weapon. These facts don’t detract from other attributes that may be used in the future for pain relief.

In conjunction with Harvard Medical School, the study at Chiu Labs revealed that the anthrax bacterium contains a toxin that silences various types of pain in test animals. The toxin alters the way pain-sensing neurons signal. When the toxin is delivered to the peripheral and central nervous systems in a targeted manner, it offers pain relief. The research is exciting, as the current use of opioids has severe side effects, including addiction and a suppressed respiratory system.

Nicole Yang, HMS research fellow in immunology at Chiu Lad, noted, “There’s still a great clinical need for developing non-opioid pain therapies that are not addictive but that are effective in silencing pain. Our experiments show that one strategy, at least experimentally, could be to specifically target pain neurons using this bacterial toxin.”

During experiments, the anthrax toxin was injected into the spines of test animals, whose bodies then began producing strong pain-blocking effects. This protected them from unpleasant sensations caused by mechanical stimulation and high heat. The animals also experienced the same pain reduction when the pain was caused by inflammation or a traumatic injury.

According to a Chiu Labs representative, “Bringing a bacterial therapeutic to treat pain raises the question ‘Can we mine the natural world and the microbial world for analgesics? “Doing so can increase the range and diversity of the types of substances we look to in search for solutions.”

Pain Affects Breathing on a Cellular Level

When you’re injured or sick, the pain causes your breathing to change. We’ve all experienced it – rapid, shallow breathing, panting. Our breathing changes in the same way when we’re startled or fearful. While scientists have noted this for centuries, the reason our breathing changes due to pain or anxiety remained a mystery.

A recent study published in the November 17, 2021, edition of Neuron outlined the discovery of how pain and fear trigger changes in respiration. The research team from the Salk Institute discovered a neural network within the brain that coordinates an individual’s breathing patterns with pain, fear, and anxiety. The scientists hope the results will contribute to advancements in pain management and treatment of anxiety. The focus is on developing analgesics that would relieve pain without the risk of opioid-induced deaths due to respiratory depression.

The neurons studied project to both the amygdala, which processes fear and emotion and the pre-Botzinger complex, an area of the brain that regulates breathing rhythms. The core and shell neurons interact with each other, tying together the brain’s two reactions.

Sung Han, assistant professor at Clayton Foundation Laboratories for Peptide Biology at the Salk, explained, “We are the first group to demonstrate how the lateral parabrachial nucleus coordinates breathing and pain. By understanding the circuits in this brain region, we may be able to tease apart breathing regulation and pain regulation to develop a medication that inhibits feelings of pain without repressing breathing, like OIRD.”

“Education, self-management and peer support in adolescents with juvenile idiopathic arthritis is very important as youth transition to adulthood when more of their disease management falls on their shoulders,” lead author Chomistek noted.

Dry Needling Effective for Neck Pain and Stiffness

A randomized study published in the “Journal of Pain” indicates that dry needling can reduce pain pressure and stiff muscles in the trapezius muscles of otherwise healthy individuals.

Dry needling resembles acupuncture in that it uses extremely fine, flexible needles inserted into the skin. However, dry needles are inserted into the muscles for only brief periods. Acupuncture needles stay in place for at least 20 minutes. During dry needling, the needle is inserted into a trigger point and, in some cases, palpated. The result is relaxation and “release” of the trigger, reducing pain and unclenching the tight or stiff muscle. While studies continue, researchers believe the technique may be an effective alternative to muscle relaxants and pain relievers for individuals with occasional pain and stiffness in the neck.

Self-Management Program Helps Patients with Adolescent Arthritis

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis can be challenging to manage. Adolescents often have problems coping with the disease and its painful effects. However, proper self-management techniques can give young people the tools to improve their health and reduce the impact arthritis has on their lives. A recent study focused on testing how in-person/videoconference programs for self-management of adolescent arthritis would be helpful to teens with the disease.

According to Kelsey Chomistek, a research trainee at the Arthritis Research Canada, “The program was well-received, and adolescents expressed a desire to attend in the future. Participants also said they would recommend the program to friends.”

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is a complex disease that can lead to long-term disability, chronic pain, and psychological and social issues as adolescents strive toward a normal adult life. The program developed in the research currently includes four separate sessions focusing on disease education, medication management, self-management strategies for pain, and psychosocial support.

Pain Facts: The most common autoimmune disorder in children is Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), affecting between one and twenty-two children per 100,000 under 16 years of age. The cause of JIA is unknown and can take several forms, including oligoarthritis, which is restricted to the larger joints such as knees and elbows, and polyarthritis, which affects at least five joints, including small and large joints. Oligo and polyarthritis are the two most common sub-categories of JIA, which also includes psoriatic (PsA), Enthesitis or spondylarthritis, and undifferentiated JIA. This autoimmune disorder affects over 50,000 children in the United States.

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