Recent estimates suggest that chronic pain affects approximately 116 million American citizens at an annual cost of around $600 billion in medical costs and lost productivity. Chronic neuropathic pain, often resulting from disease or nerve damage, is a widespread debilitating affliction that is notoriously difficult to treat. Drugs for treating chronic neuropathic pain only help about 40 percent of patients, but are associated with many efficacy-limiting side effects. This means a majority of chronic neuropathic pain patients experience some negative drug responses, while only a minority obtains even partial pain relief.
The mechanisms of chronic pain remain elusive and there is a lack of promising therapeutics in advanced stages of development. Thus there is an urgent need to better understand chronic neuropathic pain and create new, safe, and effective treatments. To date, virtually all attempts to develop more effective therapeutics for chronic neuropathic pain have targeted potential pain-causing mechanisms attributed to the innervation of peripheral tissues, especially the skin. Recent discoveries by researchers at Albany Medical College revealed that non-neuronal cells of the skin itself—particularly epidermal keratinocytes (KC)—play a key role in the sensory signaling responsible for normal sensory perception.
In this study, the research team seeks to expand on their findings and identify new ways in which KC can inform the development of therapeutics for chronic neuropathic pain. The researchers will investigate how the signaling mechanisms between KC and epidermal sensory fibers leads to normal skin sensations, as well as how alterations of these signaling mechanisms can lead to the generation of pathologic intractable pain. To obtain a better and more complete understanding of this process, the researchers will perform tests on an advanced skin-modeling technology and use an organotypic culture system to mimic the conditions of chronic neuropathic pain.