12:00 AM
 | 
Jan 08, 2015
 |  BC Innovations  |  Tools & Techniques

Pain in the dish

In vitro methods of creating pain neurons could lead to new therapeutics

Preclinical models of pain are notorious for their poor ability to translate to humans, and are considered a large part of the reason advances in analgesics have been few and far between. Two independent groups have created pain fibers in vitroby reprogramming fibroblasts, and shown that the converted cells look, respond and behave like human peripheral pain neurons. The real coup will be adding genetics to the mix, and creating specialized pain fibers for screening personalized analgesics.

"Being able to complement genetic studies with a cell-based approach can lead us to discover specific pain modifying genes that may drive the development of new treatments," said Clifford Woolf, lead author on one of the studies, and professor of neurobiology at Boston Children's Hospital and the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

The two groups, from The Scripps Research Institute and Boston Children's, plan to license the platforms for use in screening studies on new candidate compounds and in vitromodeling of pain-associated diseases.

David Yeoman, professor of anesthesia at Stanford University School of Medicine and a founder of SiteOne Therapeutics Inc., told BioCentury the new methods could be a significant advantage for drug developers.

"The most obvious application could be the acceleration of novel analgesic treatments," he said. "Up to now this has been a very slow process in vitro. The differentiation protocols give the ability to create intact nociceptors that allow the study of pain targets in a more natural milieu."

Standard screening for pain therapeutics routinely begins with tests in cultured cells expressing relevant ion channels or receptors. But those systems lack the full machinery of pain...

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