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    Cell Protein Curbs Pain More Effectively, Longer than Morphine

    By Jennifer Huddleston, staff writer     

    Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and the University of Helsinki in Finland have found that a cell protein used to diagnose prostate cancer and identify pain-sensitive neurons is also a pain medication more effective and with fewer side effects than morphine. [1]

    A single dose of PAP (prostatic acid phosphatase) appears to suppress pain in mice as effectively as morphine, but for almost eight times longer. One dose of PAP lasted up to three days, compared to just five hours for a single dose of morphine.

    “We were really blown away that a simple injection could have such a potent effect on pain,” said lead study author Mark J. Zylka, Ph.D., assistant professor of cell and molecular physiology at UNC. “Not only that, but it appeared to work much better than the commonly used drug morphine.”

    Researchers found that when the gene for PAP was removed from mice, they were more sensitive to inflammatory and neuropathic pain, both of which are common forms of chronic pain in humans. When PAP was injected back into the mice’s spinal cords, they became less susceptible to pain.

    Researchers found that PAP suppresses pain by removing the phosphate group in adenosine triphosphate (ATP) that generates the sensation of pain. When the phosphate group is removed, ATP is degraded to adenosine, which then stops the transmission of pain signals.

    “This protein has the potential to be a groundbreaking treatment for pain and has previously not been studied in pain-sensing neurons,” said Zylka.

    PAP is regularly used to diagnose prostate cancer that has metastasized throughout the body, and the same protein, under a different name—FRAP (fluoride-resistant acid phosphatase), has been used for nearly 50 years to identify pain-sensitive neurons.

    “It is entirely possible that PAP itself could be used as a treatment for pain through an injection just like morphine,” said Zylka. “But we would like to modify it to be taken in pill form. By taking this field in a new direction, we are encouraged and hopeful that we will be able to devise new treatments for pain.”

    [1] McKeever, Kevin. “Cell Protein Suppresses Pain Better than Morphine.” HealthDay. Oct. 8, 2008.
    [2]  Ibid.
    [3] “’Super’ Pain Treatment Discovered.” The Press Association. Oct. 8, 2008.
    [4]  Ibid.
    [5] University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “Cell Protein Suppresses Pain Eight Times More Effectively than Morphine.” ScienceDaily. Oct. 9, 2008.
    [6]  Ibid.
    [7]   Ibid.
    [8] McKeever, Kevin. “Cell Protein Suppresses Pain Better than Morphine.” HealthDay. Oct. 8, 2008.

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