PITTSBURGH, March 16 -- Using a patented gene vector developed by the University of Pittsburgh, a University of South Carolina-led research team is the first to show that gene therapy blocks certain pain responses in animals. This landmark study, which paves the road for future clinical research, is published in the March 16 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Our research results clearly show that pain-associated behaviors diminished in mice treated with a herpes virus containing a gene that triggers production of a pain-blocking protein," said Joseph Glorioso, Ph.D., developer of the gene vector and professor and chairman of the department of molecular genetics and biochemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. "Our vector continued to produce this protein up to seven weeks after it was introduced into these animals, suggesting that this therapy may provide long-term pain relief if used clinically," added Dr. Glorioso, who also directs the Pittsburgh Human Gene Therapy Center.
Steven Wilson, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and physiology at the University of South Carolina, who initiated this project while on sabbatical at the University of Pittsburgh, led the research team. David C. Yeomans, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Chicago, designed and performed the experiments demonstrating production of the pain-blocking protein and its pain-preventing effects.
The research team expects that within several years this approach could be used broadly to treat debilitating pain associated with cancer, arthritis, angina and peripheral neuropathies. Currently, these problems are often treated with narcotic-based medications given systemically, which can cause generalized side effects such as mental confusion and lethargy. Moreover, they are potentially addictive and in some cases ineffective for complete relief of pain.