According to a study published in the April 23 edition of Molecular Pain, researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have identified a new therapeutic approach called PAPupuncture to deliver long-lasting pain relief
In the study, the researchers found that PAPupuncture helped to alleviate pain in animal models for 6 days.
Lead researcher Mark J. Zylka, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Cell and Molecular Physiology and the UNC Neuroscience Center, explained that this study is promising and moves his laboratory work with prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP) towards translational research.
In earlier studies, Zylka and his team found that chronic pain could be alleviated in animal models for up to 3 days by injecting PAP into the spine, however, they encountered one problem - PAP's delivery.
"Spinal injections are invasive and must be performed in a clinical setting, and hence are typically reserved for patients with excruciating pain."
Although Zylka has never received acupuncture or studied traditional Chinese medicine, he became interested in acupuncture after recent studies demonstrated its effect in relieving pain.
"When an acupuncture needle is inserted into an acupuncture point and stimulated, nucleotides are released. These nucleotides are then converted into adenosine."
Adenosine can lower the body's sensitivity to pain due to its antinociceptive properties. Although adenosine helps to relieve pain, the relief usually only lasts for a few hours for the majority of acupuncture patients.
"We knew that PAP makes adenosine and lasts for days following spinal injection, so we wondered what would happen if we injected PAP into an acupuncture point? Can we mimic the pain relief that occurs with acupuncture, but have it last longer?"
In order to find out, the team injected PAP into the soft tissue area behind the knee (the popliteal fossa). This location is also the Weizhong acupuncture point.
The researchers found that pain relief lasted 100 times longer than a traditional acupuncture treatment.
In addition, the team could increase the dose of PAP because they were able to avoid the spine. The researchers also found that just 1 injection was effective at reducing symptoms linked to neuropathic and inflammatory pain.
"Pinning down the mechanisms behind acupuncture, at least in animal models, was critical. Once you know what chemicals are involved, you can exploit the mechanism, as we did in our study."
In order to test PAP in clinical trials, the researchers will need to refine the protein. UNC has licensed the use of PAP for pain treatment to Aerial BioPharma, a Morrisville, N.C.-based biopharmaceutical company.
According to Zylka, PAP has the potential to last longer than a single injection of local anesthetic and could be applicable to any area where regional anesthesia is performed to treat pain.
Julie Hurt, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Zylka's lab, explained:
"When it comes to pain management, there is a clear need for new approaches that last for longer periods of time."
Written By Grace Rattue