Dr. Mary Lynch and Dr. Jana Sawynok

Dr. Mary Lynch and Dr. Jana SawynokTackling the challenge of chronic pain:

Researchers explore new agents and methods for treating neuropathic pain

Pain researchers at Dalhousie Medical School are pioneering new agents and ways of giving drugs to help patients cope with neuropathic pain. Traditional painkillers help only a third of the people who suffer from this kind of chronic pain. Caused by nerve injury resulting from trauma, infection, or disease such as diabetes, neuropathic pain can be excruciating and interfere with all aspects of a person’s life.

Dr. Jana Sawynok, head of the Department of Pharmacology, and Dr. Mary Lynch, director of research and acting director of the QEII Pain Management Unit, have teamed up to develop a topical cream for treating chronic neuropathic pain. The preparation, which contains antidepressants, is now in clinical trials. “Neuropathic pain involves central and peripheral mechanisms and the peripheral nerves are under the skin, so topical treatments targeting peripheral nerve endings in the affected area can help to relieve the pain,” explains Dr. Lynch. “This provides effective relief, without the system-wide side effects of drugs taken orally, such as NSAIDS and opiates.”

Dr. Lynch plays a lead role in the new Canadian Pain Trials Network, and is a key member of the Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids, marijuana-derived compounds with pain-relief potential.

In addition to her work on topical creams and other novel pain treatments, Dr. Sawynok is exploring the effects of society’s most popular drug – caffeine – on the painkilling action of medications which are frequently prescribed for chronic pain. “Caffeine seems to block the analgesic effect of a number of pain drugs in pre-clinical studies,” she says. “Given the widespread use of caffeine, we need to understand how it interacts with other drugs.”

Dr. Sawynok also plays a leadership role in a national group that’s working to increase Canadian medical students’ exposure to complementary and alternative medicine. “Many people, especially those with chronic pain, are turning to such complementary therapies as acupuncture, chiropractic and herbal medicine,” she says. “Medical students need to understand and respect what these approaches can offer.”