Treatment for Chronic Pain — In Pets and PeopleJoshua Zaffos
Linda Watkins, a neuroscience and psychology professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, was speaking at an international conference in the Nevada city in 2010; her presentation on groundbreaking chronic pain management research for people got the attention of Robert Landry, a Lafayette, Colo.-based veterinarian who was attending the meeting.
After hearing about Watkins’ innovative research into glial cells — cells that surround neurons in humans’ and animals’ brains and spinal cords — Landry approached her, and they began discussing how to apply her research to dogs. The two are now working with a startup company, Xalud Therapeutics Inc., based in San Francisco, to bring forward the therapies for canines in pain — and eventually for people.
Glial cells have often been overlooked in neuroscience, Watkins said, with most studies focusing strictly on how neurons send pain messages throughout the body. But the “pesky, little” glial cells are ten times more numerous than neurons, and her research indicates they can play a moderating — or aggravating — function that eases or intensifies pain perceptions.
Watkins’ studies suggest that injecting subjects (initially rats) with a glial-calming gene therapy increases the release of Interleukin 10, a natural anti-inflammatory protein, and eliminates neuropathic pain for up to 90 days after a single injection, which can then be repeated. The treatments could provide unprecedented relief to people suffering chronic pain from a variety of causes, as well as potentially providing a novel treatment for multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and other debilitating conditions, and to animals with similar ailments.
“There are no drugs on the market that target these cells,” Watkins said. “It’s a major shift in how we look at chronic pain and medicine.”
Watkins and Landry, who is based at Mountain Ridge Animal Hospital in Lafayette, have started clinical studies and screening on dogs. Xalud Therapeutics has received funds from the National Institutes of Health and is also waiting on an American Kennel Club grant to continue testing and to study how to translate the results to humans within the next year.
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