Linda Watkins’ lab at the University of Colorado at Boulder studies how to treat chronic pain. While all currently available therapies target neurons, Dr. Watkins’ work has shown that a major player in the development and maintenance of neuropathic pain is a non-neuronal cell called glia. Glia outnumber neurons 10 to 1 and when activated can compromise the ability of analgesics to suppress pain by producing proinflammatory cytokines causing an enhanced and prolonged pain experience. The anti-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10) has the ability to suppress the production and function of many proinflammatory cytokines released by activated glia. Therefore, IL-10 has emerged as a novel drug candidate to treat neuropathic pain.
Dr. Watkins’ research has shown that intrathecal administration of IL-10 protein provides relief from chronic pain in animal models. This analgesic effect is achieved through introduction of plasmid DNA (pDNA) encoding IL-10. Moreover, prolonged analgesia is achieved through encapsulating this plasmid DNA in a poly-lactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA) degradable micro-particle which slowly releases the plasmid in the CSF and induces macrophages to take-up (phagocytose) the plasmid, leading to higher IL-10 gene-expression levels. Ongoing studies additionally demonstrate utility in a number of other neurological disorders.
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