Researchers discovered a new compound which could be an alternative to morphine, having the same effects but lacking the addictive potential.
The new medicine was tested on mice, and it will soon enter trials on humans.
“The field had wondered whether a small molecule with just the right chemical features to trip off one pathway, but not the other, could be designed,” said Dr. Aashish Manglik, a researcher at Stanford University that had been involved in the development of the alternative drug.
Opioids are usually used by doctors when they have to eliminate pain during the recovery process. However, the drugs have substantial side effects, such as addiction and breathing issues.
Therefore, the researchers from four universities came together to create a new chemical compound which is supposed to be an alternative to opioids. The medicine does not induce addictive behavior, and it is also efficient against pain.
Opioids have a long history, as morphine was used in pain treatments as early as the 10th century. However, the side effects of the morphine derivates such as codeine, fentanyl, or oxycodone, make the substance highly risky for patients.
The classic drugs work by binding a receptor in the brain and modifying the transmitter path that makes the pain perceivable. However, while acting on the pain transmitter receptors, they also activate another path that is used to suppress respiration.
Problems with breathing are often the cause of death in many overdose cases, as patients end up asphyxiating to death because of the high quantity of drugs.
In 2014, more than 28,000 people died from overdoses related to heroin or opioids, and the epidemic could not be stopped in the recent years. Therefore, researchers started to look for alternatives to the dangerous medicine.
After examining more than 2,500 chemical compounds, the list was narrowed down to a couple of dozens which were later tested on mice. Thus, they managed to obtain PZM21, a powerful drug that can be as efficient as morphine when eliminating pain while not causing any breathing problems.
When testing the compound on mice, the researchers discovered that the rodents did not show any sign of preference between the new drug and other substances. The reaction is completely different than how rodents react to morphine, which they always pick if available.
While the results are not final, the researchers think that the first reactions are positive, and they will try to start testing on humans.
The authors of the study stress the fact that many medical procedures are now performed because the doctors rely on drugs controlling the pain following the operation. Therefore, it is crucial to have a good painkiller that will not affect the patient in any way.
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