Morphine and other opiates offer critical relief for patients in pain. Unfortunately, these drugs can also cause a number of unwanted side effects, including addiction. Now, scientists at the University of Arizona may have found a painkiller without secondary problems.
A team led by chemistry professor Victor Hruby has designed an artificial molecule that attaches just to the brain-cell receptors that mitigate pain. Injected into animals, the molecules don't seem to trigger the heart or lung difficulties associated with opiates. Nor is there any increased tolerance, a sign of addiction. As a result, the molecules may also prove superior to Methadone as a treatment for drug addiction, since Methadone is itself often addictive.
Curing addiction isn't simply a matter of providing addicts with a substitute drug, cautions Hruby. While some behavioral symptoms associated with addiction seem to be reversed by the molecule, he adds, "we don't know what 'craving' means in chemical terms." Still, for alleviating pain, Hruby hopes to begin human trials within two years.