Aussie scientists report exciting pain relief breakthrough using human stem cells

January 30, 2020

Hoping to offer a safer and less addictive alternative to opioid-based pain relievers, scientists at the University of Sydney have demonstrated the viability of a new type of pain-blocking neuron derived from human stem cells for the first time. The scientists were working on neuropathic pain – referring to the sensitivity/pain felt from harmless stimuli after a traumatic nerve injury – which has no effective treatment. However, according to study author Professor Greg Neely, “For some of these patients, we could make pain-killing transplants from their own cells, and the cells can then reverse the underlying cause of pain.”

Earlier, scientists were able to isolate pain-killing neurons from the brains of foetal mice and transplant them into mice experiencing neuropathic pain. Neely and his team sought to replicate this with human stem cells, using advanced technology.

Neely explained that human stem cells were obtained from skin or blood cells and cultured for four weeks, which yielded almost 95% pain-killing neurons. In experiments conducted on neuropathic/healthy mice – the former would normally twitch from feather-light touches to their paws – the injection of pain-killing neurons into their spinal cord appeared to block neuropathic pain before signals travel to the brain.

“It’s a specific therapy where one injection blocks pain permanently, so far,” Neely exclaimed.

The scientists are particularly enthused by the lack of side effects in their early experiments, as this method targets only parts of the body that experience pain. Follow-up studies will verify the safety of the new therapy in larger animals and could be trialled in human sufferers of chronic pain in the next five years.

Category: Features, Technology & Devices

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