U of A lab receives funding to help prevent opioid addiction in chronic pain patients

Pharmacology lab upgrades among 16 U of A projects sharing more than $3 million in new grants.

The microbiome of the human gut-the ecosystem of bacteria and other microbes that thrive within it-has become the latest frontier of research into a list of ailments that range from allergies to mental illness.

A University of Alberta pharmacology lab has shown how the microbiome changes with the use of opioids, which may hold the promise of helping experts combat opioid addiction more effectively.

"We have shown that both opioids and chronic pain change the microbiome, and in fact, those changes to the gut bacteria that begin to thrive in the guts during chronic pain are at least causally related to some of the pain symptoms," said Anna Taylor, a pharmacology researcher.

She explained her lab is looking at strategies to manipulate or restore the gut microbiome to normal to find alternative ways to treat pain, either in chronic pain or during opioid withdrawal, that doesn't involve an opioid.

"A therapy to restore the gut microbiome for a treatment for either chronic pain or addiction is very exciting, and we have preliminary data that suggest it might be beneficial," said Taylor.

This project and a host of others looking at the intersection between chronic pain and opioid addiction have resulted in a $156,000 grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) to update Taylor's Pain and Addiction Laboratory.

It was one of 16 U of A projects that shared funding of more than $3 million announced today by the federal government, which is supporting 186 projects across Canada with $42 million. Each project also received or is supported by matching provincial funds.

Taylor explained that chronic pain patients are often prescribed large amounts of opioids, usually for long periods of time.

"The use of opioids in chronic, non-cancer pain is controversial," she said. "We are living in an opioid epidemic, so there is a worry that we're generating opioid addicts within the chronic pain patient population."

In understanding whether chronic pain changes the way opioids are felt or even how the brain reacts to chronic pain, Taylor noted it is her goal to find a way to improve the analgesic efficacy of opioids.

"We might be able to make opioids work better at managing chronic pain and we might be able to diminish some of the negative side-effects associated with opioids, such as withdrawal and tolerance," she said.

Her lab's research also applies to opioid addiction. She said relapse rates among people who suffer from opioid addiction hover at 80 to 90 per cent.

"Part of that is because withdrawal is associated with increased pain and dysphoria, which are the same symptoms found in chronic pain," said Taylor. "If we can improve the symptoms and the processes associated with opioid withdrawal, and make people better when they are going through this withdrawal period, we might be able to improve abstinence rates amongst those suffering from opioid addiction."

U of A recipients

Bipro Dhar (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Environmental Bioprocess Development Laboratory for Waste and Wastewater

Benjamin Adam (Laboratory Medicine and Pathology)
Molecular Injury and Repair Assessment in Ex Vivo Perfused Solid Organ Transplants

Kristi Baker (Experimental Oncology)
Characterization of the Role of Microparticles in Regulating Immune Responses Against Colorectal Cancer

Mohamed Gamal El-Din (Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Targeted Analyses Using Triple Quadrupole Mass Spectrometry to Assess the Performance of Land/Water Reclamation Systems

Jesse Jackson (Physiology)
An in Vivo Two-Photon (2P) Imaging Platform to Study Cell Types, Neural Networks, and Mechanisms of Memory

Olivier Julien (Biochemistry) and Glen Uhrig (Biological Sciences)
Quantitative Proteomics Infrastructure for Both Fundamental and Applied Agricultural and Health Science Research

Sue-Ann Mok (Biochemistry)
High-Throughput Discovery of Cellular Targets and Research Tools for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Marie-Cécile Piro (Physics)
Ultra-low Radioactivity Gases for New Rare Event Searches and New Detector Technology

Matthew Steele-MacInnis (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
Properties of Geologic Fluids: Linking Physical and Atomic-Scale Properties at Elevated Temperatures and Pressures

Gopinath Sutendra (Cardiology)
Identification of Novel Therapeutic Targets in Chemotherapy-Induced Cardiotoxicity

Anna Taylor (Pharmacology)
Pain and Addiction Laboratory

Anastassia Voronova (Medical Genetics)
Dissecting Molecular Mechanisms Regulating Brain Development and Regeneration

Siobhan Wilson (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences)
Metal Resource Recovery During Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage in Waste Minerals and Waste Water

Juan Pablo Yañez Garza (Physics)
Development and Characterization of an Innovative Hybrid Photosensor

Lexuan Zhong (Mechanical Engineering)
Examination of HVAC Systems on Indoor Gaseous Pollutant Transmission and Development of Effective Control Strategies

Douglas Zochodne (Neurology)
Digital PCR Analysis for Neuroscience Discovery