Health Features

Health Flash: 9.12.18

non-opioid pain relief
In a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, researchers at Washington University may have found a better way to treat pain without using opioids. Recently, the non-opioid drug EMA401 showed promise for treating nerve pain following shingles. It inhibits the angiotensin II (a hormone that causes blood vessels to restrict) type 2 receptor, and at first, it was believed to relieve pain by interacting with the receptor on nerve cells. However, when angiotensin was added to nerve cells in mice, nothing happened. “We found that the receptor the drug affected wasn’t on nerve cells; it was on macrophages, the immune cells,” explains co-investigator Dr. Andrew Shepherd, an instructor in anesthesiology. The team found that the hormone interacted with the macrophages, which in turn interacted with the nerve cells. In mice, reducing the number of macrophages appeared to reduce the pain response to an angiotensin injection. When the macrophages repopulated, the pain response returned. Researchers are hopeful the findings will make it possible to develop more effective painkilling drugs with fewer side effects.

help for diabetics 
The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust gave a $150,000 grant to support research at Saint Louis University on hypoglycemia, the life-threatening drop in blood sugar that is a complication of type 1 diabetes. The research team is led by Dr. Gina Yosten, an assistant professor of pharmacology and physiology. Yosten’s lab previously discovered neuronostatin, a protein that drives glucagon release. Glucagon is a hormone that signals the liver to start making glucose and is inhibited in type 1 diabetes, which may be the result of missing or aberrant signaling. “Neuronostatin’s release may be impaired in type 1 diabetes,” Yosten says. “If we can develop a therapeutic drug that mimics neuronostatin, it may protect against hypoglycemia.” Previous research was centered on animal models, and the grant will allow work with human pancreas cells. The team will begin collecting blood samples to evaluate how neuronostatin levels change in response to low blood glucose levels. Yosten hopes the findings will lead to the development of new therapies.

lasers fight brain tumors
Half of patients with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, die within 14 months of diagnosis. Even if treatment is initially successful, these brain tumors typically recur. Surgical treatment involves removing part of the skull to cut out the tumor and is followed by radiation and chemotherapy, but when the tumor returns, a repeat operation is considered too taxing for most patients. Instead of surgery, doctors use chemotherapy or laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT), which uses pulses of heat to kill tumor cells. Researchers at Washington University have found that laser treatments can add an average of two months to a patient’s life compared to chemotherapy. The study gathered survival data by reviewing all laser treatments for glioblastoma from 2010 to 2016 at Siteman Cancer Center. During that time, 54 patients received laser treatments, some performed on inoperable tumors and some on those that had recurred after primary treatment. Previous studies determined patients typically live nine months with chemotherapy, and it was found that patients with recurrent tumors lived an average of 11.5 months after receiving laser therapy. The study is published in the journal Neurosurgery.