ALBANY, N.Y., August 18, 2006 —Lindsay Hough, Ph.D., a professor in the Center for Neuropharmacology and Neuroscience, was recently awarded a $1,052,979, four-year research grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The award will permit Dr. Hough and his co-workers to continue studies of improgan, a novel pain-relieving medication discovered in the 1990s in their AMC laboratory. The goals for the new research grant are to discover how this medication works, and to develop similar drugs for human use.
The research team has recently found that improgan seems to act through marijuana-like pain-relieving pathways, but, for reasons that are not fully understood, the drug does not have marijuana-like side effects. In people, these side effects include addiction and increased appetite. And because the use of marijuana as a pain reliever is highly controversial, Dr. Hough has been trying to tap into the positive effects of how marijuana acts in the brain through other means.
While improgan appears to be a powerful pain reliever without the troublesome side effects of morphine or marijuana, it is only useful in a laboratory setting and not suitable for use in people because it has to be directly injected into the brain.
“The brain has its own marijuana-like chemicals—called endocannabinoids—that it uses to relieve pain,” Dr. Hough said. “In our animal studies, we have continued to find that improgan’s pain-relieving properties overlap with that of the brain’s own marijuana-like (endocannabinoid) system. However, new data suggest that more than one kind of receptor for cannabinoids may exist in the brain, and our lab is investigating which of these might be important for improgan action.”
One of the aims of the new grant is to purify and identify the proteins in the brain that recognize improgan to further understand this process.
Under an earlier million-dollar grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Dr. Hough and colleagues have been designing improgan-like drugs with greater potency and suitable for oral administration.
Dr. Hough, in collaboration with Mary Heinricher, Ph.D., of the Oregon Health Sciences University, will also be assessing the modulation of the brain’s pain-relieving circuits by improgan. Dr. Heinricher is one of the world’s pioneers in the study of the circuits of the brain stem involved in pain processing and pain control.
In addition, Dr. Hough’s lab will assess the pain-relieving properties of improgan in neuropathic pain – an intense, chronic condition caused by damage to the nerves.
“There are no adequate medical treatments for neuropathic pain, and preliminary results suggest that improgan-like drugs may be effective,” said Dr. Hough, who cautions that the research on improgan is still in the basic science phase and he is probably years away from developing a drug that makes it to the market.
Dr. Hough’s AMC research team includes Julia Nalwalk, research lab manager, and Rebecca Stadel and Catherine Salussolia, AMC graduate students. AMC medical students who have contributed to the research include Neal Gehani, Rachna Goel, and Jennifer Trachler. Outside collaborators on the project include Mark Wentland, Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), James Phillips, Ph.D. (Curragh Chemistries, Cleveland, OH), Rob Leurs, Ph.D. (Vrije University, Amsterdam, Netherlands), and Dr. Heinricher.
Albany Medical Center is northeastern New York’s only academic health sciences center. It consists of Albany Medical College, Albany Medical Center Hospital and the Albany Medical Center Foundation, Inc. Additional information about Albany Medical Center can be found at www.amc.edu.