NYU Professor Rajesh Khanna leads study on chronic pain treatment

Professor Rajesh Khanna. PHOTO: @dental.nyu.edu

A study by Professor Rajesh Khanna, along with a team of researchers at NYU College of Dentistry’s Pain Research Center published their scientific findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), on gene therapy they developed to treat chronic pain by indirectly regulating a specific sodium ion channel.

A July 27, 2023, news release on the University website, says the “innovative therapy” which has been tested in cells and animals, was possible because they discovered the precise area where the regulatory protein binds to the particular sodium ion channel (NaV1.7), to control its activity.

“Our study represents a major step forward in understanding the underlying biology of the NaV1.7 sodium ion channel, which can be harnessed to provide relief from chronic pain,” Professor Khanna, director of the NYU Pain Research Center and professor of molecular pathobiology at NYU Dentistry, is quoted saying in the news release which lists chronic pain as a “significant public health issue” affecting one-third of Americans.

In view of the opioid epidemic, the search is on for safer alternatives to treat chronic pain. And scientists have zeroed in on the NaV1.7 sodium ion channel after discovering how it operates in people with rare, genetic pain disorders.

For years, attempts have been made with little success, to find treatments that would selectively block NaV1.7, the news release notes.

“Khanna has taken a different approach: rather than blocking NaV1.7, his goal is to indirectly regulate it using a protein called CRMP2,” it notes.

“CRMP2 ‘talks’ to the sodium ion channel and modulates its activity, allowing more or less sodium into the channel. If you block the conversation between Nav1.7 and CRMP2 by inhibiting the interaction between the two, we can dial down how much sodium comes in. This quiets down the neuron and pain is mitigated,” said Khanna, who is the senior author of the PNAS study.

Khanna’s lab has been successful in controlling pain in cells and animal models using the compound, but more so by pinpointing a specific region within NaV1.7 where the CRMP2 protein binds to the sodium ion channel to regulate its activity. They learned that this region is specific to NaV1.7, as CRMP2 did not readily bind to other sodium ion channels, the news release explains.

“There is a significant need for new pain treatments, including for cancer patients with chemotherapy-induced neuropathy,” Khanna is quoted saying, adding, “Our long-term goal is to develop a gene therapy that patients could receive to better treat these painful conditions and improve their quality of life,” said Khanna. For more details on the research visit the news section at nyu.edu.



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