Duquesne University Professor Creates First Nanomedicine to Treat Pain

New Approach Directly Targets Pain Source; Could Reduce Use of Opioids in Future

Duquesne University Professor Dr. Jelena Janjic has created the first inflammatory pain nanomedicine that could significantly reduce the need for opioids in treating pain.

Presenting her findings in March at the American Pain Society Scientific Summit, Janjic reported that nanomedicines, which carry miniscule amounts of drugs, reduced pain behavior after a single injection for one week to one month in rats and mice with diverse types of injury. The nanomedicines carry 2,000 times less medicine than a typical dose, which could reduce the need for opioids in treating various types of pain, including after injury, surgery or even cancer.

"Today's pain medicines travel through the entire body," said Janjic, associate professor in Duquesne's School of Pharmacy and founder of the University's Chronic Pain Research Consortium (CPRC). "Our approach is different — it delivers the medicine only to the injured area in the right amount — no more, no less."

A chronic pain patient herself, Janjic's refusal to take opioids as part of her treatment pushed her to start conducting her own pain research and founding the CPRC in 2011. Co-led with Duquesne Biological Sciences Professor Dr. John A. Pollock, the consortium is an interdisciplinary initiative that includes Duquesne faculty and students from the pharmacy, chemistry, nanotechnology, psychology, nursing, neuroscience and occupational therapy fields. CPRC has built significant momentum in recent years, receiving more than $3 million in external funding for research and education programs.

"These findings represent a complete paradigm shift in how we approach pain treatment," Janjic said. "The data strongly suggest a potentially universal pain reducing approach. We believe these nanomedicines could treat any type of pain where infection, injury or autoimmune diseases cause changes in the immune system."

She noted that nanomedicines can also be viewed by magnetic resonance or optical imaging machines, allowing medical professionals to track exactly where pain-causing cells are located. She added that her design allows the nanomedicines to be built to scale so they can be created by drug manufacturers and ultimately reach pain sufferers.

"We have worked very hard to make sure this approach meets complex manufacturing requirements, that the nanomedicines are of the highest quality and that they can be produced at scale," Janjic said. "With the right support, we can produce these nanomedicines on a large scale with all the necessary quality control needed for future testing in larger animal models and humans."

Janjic's research has been funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, and the U.S. Air Force. Her highly multidisciplinary team of collaborators includes researchers from Duquesne, the University of Pittsburgh, Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the University of Texas in Dallas and the 59th Medical Wing of the U.S. Air Force.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 8,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The University’s academic programs, community service, and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim.

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