Hope Center scientist Karen O’Malley, PhD, has led research and published a study that could revolutionize the treatment of chronic pain.

The research at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and McGill University in Montreal indicates that the location of receptors that transmit pain signals is important in how big or small a pain signal will be and how effectively drugs can block those signals.

“Chronic pain affects almost 30 percent of Americans, and we’ve found, in rats, that by blocking specific receptors inside the cell, we can block pain,” said co-senior author O’Malley, PhD, a professor of neuroscience at Washington University. “If we can find ways to specifically block pain receptors inside of cells rather than on the cell surface, we may make a big dent in chronic pain with fewer drug-induced side effects.”

The study is published online Feb. 3 in the journal Nature Communications.

Read the news release from Washington University in St. Louis. 

Karen O'Malley

Karen O’Malley, PhD, led a team that discovered that in nerve cells, the location of receptors that transmit pain signals is important in how big or small a pain signal will be. O’Malley’s computer screen shows receptors (orange) in the nucleus of a nerve cell that have been activated by a drug that targeted those nuclear receptors rather than receptors on the cell surface. (Photo: Robert Boston/Washington University School of Medicine)