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Creighton professor to lead NIH pain research project

A Creighton professor will lead a multi-university team of researchers charged with finding pain therapies that will reduce the need for highly addictive opioids.

Shashank DravidShashank Dravid, PhD, an associate professor of pharmacology and neuroscience at the Creighton University School of Medicine, brings his expertise in both disciplines to the wide-ranging assault on opioids that is the focus of a five-year $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health.

A project summary published by the NIH states that pain impacts more than 100 million Americans, costing several hundred billion dollars in health care costs and lost productivity.

“Persistent pain may produce long-term disability and lead to precipitation of depression, anxiety and cognitive impairment,” the summary said. “Currently used medications for chronic pain are not always effective and have limitations in terms of tolerance and abuse liability. Thus, identifying novel therapeutic targets is essential to address this clinical burden.”

Dravid said the well-publicized danger of opioid addiction is an important driver of the research. “We are working on finding treatments for chronic pain that will avoid the need for opioids,” Dravid says.

“This is a very big grant, with several co-investigators from other universities. This is a new area for me, so I have collaborators who are pain experts. We all bring our own expertise.”

Dravid and his collaborators will focus on pain-signaling mechanisms in the amygdala, which is an almond-shaped mass of gray matter found in both of the brain’s cerebral hemispheres. The amygdala is believed to play an important role in responding to such emotions as fear, anger, anxiety, depression and pain sensation.

Dravid said the groundwork for the study was laid by Pauravi Gandhi, PhD’20, a lab student of his who recently graduated from Creighton with a doctorate in pharmacology and neuroscience.

He said Gandhi ascertained the location and function of the relevant pain receptor in the amygdala through animal models.

Other Creighton laboratory personnel involved in the project include postdoctoral fellows Gajanan Shelkar, Dinesh Gawande and research associates Ratnamala Uppala, Jinxu Liu and Sukanya Gakare.

The overall project team includes researchers from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas, and Emory University in Atlanta.


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