Dr. Linda Watkins’ CU-Boulder lab studies how to treat chronic pain and increase the efficacy of analgesic drugs while decreasing their negative side effects. While all currently available therapies for acute and chronic pain target neurons, the focus of the Watkins lab is radically different; namely, a type of non-neuronal cells called glia. Dr. Watkins’ work has shown that glial activation can compromise the ability of analgesics to suppress pain, contribute to the development of tolerance (wherein more and more drug is required to obtain pain relief), and contribute to the development of dependence (an increasing issue with pain meds). Her work has shown that variants of known opioids, as well as drugs targeting Toll-Like Receptor 4 (TLR4), can suppress glia activation and thereby treat chronic pain as stand-alone therapies; they can also increase analgesic efficacy while decreasing analgesic tolerance, dependence, and reward, and other negative side effects.
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