Safer Painkillers

By Akari Miki

Opioids are commonly used to alleviate pain from tissue damage and inflammation, especially those due to surgery, nerve damage, arthritis, or cancer. These painkillers function by binding and activating opioid receptors of the cells. However, this mechanism lacks specificity and often damages healthy tissues in addition to inflamed ones, causing harmful side effects such as drowsiness, nausea, and respiratory arrest. Seeking to innovate safer opioid treatments, researchers at Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin designed a morphine-like prototype that relieves pain without harming healthy tissues. Their computer simulation demonstrated a new reaction mechanism in which this molecule binds to opioid receptors of the cell only under acidic conditions. This chemical interaction between the drug and receptors is ideal, because damaged tissues are highly acidic compared to healthy ones. Therefore, the new prototype has enhanced specificity and targets only inflamed tissues. By minimizing the usual side effects of opioids, this prototype will improve the quality of life for recuperating patients who seek pain relief. Furthermore, this new design may improve drugs for other types of pain and possibly assist with some areas in receptor research.


Source: Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin. (2017, March 3). Painkillers without dangerous side effects: Researchers discover new mechanism of action. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 12, 2017 from