Opioids are an impending crisis in this country and across the globe. The prescription of these heavy painkillers is highly controversial, with some medical professionals claiming that it’s too much and others claiming it’s too little— but we know one thing: substances like morphine and oxycodone are extremely powerful, but, more dangerously, extremely addictive. Knowing that these substances pose this threat, we ought to search for reliable alternatives that can improve people’s pain management without decimating their quality of life.
As discussed in his chalk talk this week, Michael Lee’s lab is looking at pain response and reduction in the body through the use of a mouse model. Essentially, Michael’s job is to understand the pain threshold for mice through exposure to different stimuli, such as a filament poking their paws. He then observes if there is any notable behavioral change to determine if the mice are feeling pain. The project as a whole is exploring the use of a protein called STING (stimulator of interferon genes) that’s part of our innate immune response for its potential as a painkiller. Most painkillers attack the nervous system response for pain, but few do an adequate job of addressing the cycling neuroinflammation that accompanies injury, but STING, if expressed in greater amounts, could benefit people by offering a less addictive anti-inflammatory as a response to opiates or other commonly used pain killers.
However, with STING, there are still concerns. Mainly, it needs to be target specific when expressed through therapeutic means. Pain is an essential signaling mechanism for the body in response to harm, and, though chronic pain is bad, pain does serve an important role in preserving our bodies. It’s certain that Michael’s research is both intriguing and applicable to everyday life, and I look forward to hearing more about what comes from his time in the lab.