News Feature | April 21, 2014

Researchers Identify New Pain Relief Targets For Cancer Patients

By Estel Grace Masangkay

painkiller syringe

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funded researchers at King's College London have identified new targets for pain relief in chemotherapy, especially for patients with cancer.

Some chemotherapy drugs such as vincristine could cause damage to the nerves, especially those in the periphery of the body. This is usually prominent in the hands and feet. Doctors prescribe painkillers to treat pain, but some patients still fail to find relief.

Dr. Marzia Malcangio explained, “The chemotherapy drug was found to cause damage to blood vessels around the nerves. When this happened, immune cells leave the blood flow and enter the nerve to help reduce the inflammation, but they also activate pain. Chemicals released naturally by the immune cells were activating the nerves and producing pain.”

The discovery was made while the researchers studying how pain takes place in nerves in the periphery of the body. Mice were given chemotherapy drugs because they also experienced pain in their nerve extremities such as hind-paws. The researchers observed that pain was caused by the animals’ own immune system responding to damaged blood vessels. They also found that receptors located outside the immune cells could be targeted to stop their exit from blood.

“We have been investigating and identifying mechanisms underlying pain generation and our findings could help chemotherapy patients who suffer pain related side effects… We have discovered that the pain responses are caused by local activation of pain nerves by immune cells and that this could be prevented.” said Dr. Malcangio. She also said that the team’s findings can be exploited to develop and produce drugs that may limit the pain experienced by patients during chemotherapy cycles when used in combination with other treatments.

Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC CEO, said, “This BBSRC CASE studentship has enabled a mutually beneficial research collaboration between academia and industry. Understanding the biological mechanisms of pain, using this mouse model, could lead to new types of pain management.”