Research into opioid painkillers could provide clues for safer drug development

Researchers have taken a step closer to understanding the body’s response to opioid painkillers such as morphine and fentanyl, which could lead to the development of safer opioid drugs.

Opioids are a class of powerful painkillers used to treat moderate to severe pain. They act on the nervous system, stimulating opioid receptors which then block pain. But continued use can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms, partly because the body’s tolerance builds up quickly and pain control diminishes.Now, research published in ‘Nature Communications’ has identified the specific molecular mechanisms in the body which respond to the opioids and cause this increasing tolerance. Dr Alexis Bailey at St George’s, University of London was part of the research team, which was led by Professor Schulz of Jena University Hospital, Germany. The researchers developed genetically modified mice that lacked phosphorylation sites of the ‘mu’ (µ) opioid receptor, the target of opioid painkillers in the central nervous system. These mice subsequently built up very little tolerance to opioids such as fentanyl and morphine. As a result, the painkilling effect of these drugs was dramatically increased. But the side effects of the drugs, such as constipation, respiratory depression and withdrawal symptoms, remained unchanged or were exacerbated. The researchers’ findings show that tolerance and dependence are two dissociable phenomena governed by separate molecular mechanisms. While it had been demonstrated that these “mu” phosphorylation sites played a role in opioid tolerance in cells, this is the first time it has been proven in animal models. In 2017, 23.8 million prescriptions were dispensed for opioids such as tramadol in England – one for every two adults. Hospital admissions in the UK involving opioid overdoses have almost doubled in a decade to 2017. Dr Alexis Bailey, Lecturer in Neuropharmacology at St George’s, said: “So-called ‘safe opioids’ that are less likely to result in dependence, tolerance and risk of accidental overdose have been the Holy Grail of opioid research. This study takes us a step closer to understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms of how they work on the body, which is an absolute prerequisite to devising new strategies for drug development.”

opiod pills

Finance Director appointed to external board

Nicola Arnold, Director of Finance has been appointed to the Advance HE board. Advance HE supports universities in putting institutional strategy into practice for the benefit of students, staff and society.

The full list of new board members are:

Nicola Arnold

Top London mental health trust welcomes Professor Deborah Bowman as new non-executive director

Professor Deborah Bowman MBE, Deputy Principal (Institutional Affairs) and Professor of Bioethics, Clinical Ethics and Medical Law at St George’s, has been appointed university nominated non executive director at South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust (SWLSTG). The Trust provides national and local mental health services across Richmond, Kingston, Sutton, Merton and Wandsworth.

 

Prof. Bowman

Student wins national social mobility award at House of Lords ceremony

A social work student from Kingston University and St George's, University of London has won a national social mobility award for her voluntary and charity work at the inaugural UpReach Student Social Mobility Awards.

Rochelle Watson, a single mother to three-year-old son Allan Junior and the first in her family to go to university, picked up the Charity and Third Sector accolade at a ceremony at the House of Lords. The awards recognise the achievements of undergraduates from less advantaged backgrounds across the United Kingdom.


New book outlines ramifications of privatising social work services

A book setting out the far-reaching implications of privatising social work has been unveiled by a leading academic from Kingston University and St George's, University of London.

 

Ray Jones