NIH Grant Backs Project to Develop New Pain Therapy for SCD Patients

Joana Carvalho, PhD avatar

by Joana Carvalho, PhD |

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a grant to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering to support their project to develop a non-invasive, non-toxic and non-addictive pain treatment for people with sickle cell disease (SCD).

“There is an urgent unmet need to develop safe, effective, and non-addictive device-based technologies to treat pain in sickle cell disease,” Bin He, PhD, said in a news story. Professor He is department head of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at the College of Engineering in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“We believe a noninvasive neuromodulation method is the answer. Through innovation in engineering methodology, such a noninvasive pain management device would revolutionize current clinical practices in pain management,” He added.

The project seeks to create and validate a device that will use ultrasound to stimulate specific regions of the brain to relieve pain associated with SCD.

This new method is meant to be used as an alternative to opioids, a class of pain relievers that can have several side effects and lead to addiction.

The more than $2 million that was awarded to He and his team is one of 375 that have been granted to investigators working to solve the opioid crisis across 41 U.S. states.

The grants are all part of the NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-Term (HEAL) initiative, which was launched in 2018 to promote the prevention of opioid misuse, improve treatments for chronic pain, reduce the rates of overdoses and opioid use disorder, and improve the rates of long-term recovery from opioid addiction.

“It’s clear that a multi-pronged scientific approach is needed to reduce the risks of opioids, accelerate development of effective non-opioid therapies for pain and provide more flexible and effective options for treating addiction to opioids,” said Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. director of the NIH, who launched the HEAL initiative in early 2018.

“This unprecedented investment in the NIH HEAL Initiative demonstrates the commitment to reversing this devastating crisis,” Collins said at the time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017  opioid overdoses killed more than 47,000 people in the U.S. About 36% of those deaths were found to be related to prescription opioids.

The Carnegie Mellon research team led by He includes: Matt Smith, PhD, associate professor of BME and the Neuroscience Institute; Kai Yu, research scientist in BME; Rachel Niu, PhD, student in BME; and Kalpna Gupta, PhD, professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine.