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Duquesne Researchers Working On Drug That Could Be Upgrade To Current Anti-Inflammatories

Pat Sullivan
Pain relievers line the shelves of a Houston drug store Monday, Feb. 14, 2005.

A researcher at Duquesne University has developed anti-inflammatory pain medication that could be more effective than current options — while also using far smaller doses.

The "nanomedicine," created by Jelena Janjic, co-director of Duquesne's Chronic Pain Research Consortium and associate professor of pharmaceutics, and colleagues, is able to effectively target specific, affected areas of the body. Common anti-inflammatory drugs are distributed indiscriminately throughout the body via the bloodstream after being ingested.

In animal trials, Janjic and her colleagues were able to reduce pain for more than a week at a time using a single injection, carrying a dose about 2,000 times smaller than those typical of anti-inflammatory medications. They presented these findings at the American Pain Society Scientific Summit in March.

Janjic said that in the process of responding to injury or infection, some of the body's immune system cells actually produce inflammation and pain.

"What our nanomedicine is doing is chasing after those cells and changing their behavior so [that] we achieve pain relief," said Janjic.

Janjic said the drug bears similarities to existing non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, which include ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen. She said that although these drugs are generally considered "safe," they do carry side effects, such as increased risk for bleeding or upset stomach, which could be reduced with smaller doses. 

The challenge for Janjic and her and collaborators at Duquesne, the University of Pittsburgh, Wake Forest University and the U.S. Airforce was to modulate only these specific functions of the cells without causing adverse effects.

"We spent an enormous amount of effort to make our nanoparticles completely benign to these particular cells," said Janjic. "We probably tested for this more than anything else."

Although the drug is not yet ready to be tested with humans, Janjic said that from the start it was developed with the goal of replacing another kind of drug used in pain treatment, far more damaging than NSAIDs.

"The primary motivation ... [is to] either dramatically decrease the need [for] opioids, or get rid of them altogether," said Janjic.

Targeted nanomedicine approaches have also been researched for cancer treatment.