With the ultimate long-term goal: New treatments for chronic pain
Researchers Niels Eijkelkamp and Michiel van der Vlist from UMC Utrecht have received a so-called ‘ENW-M-2’ grant of over €700,000 from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). They will use this money to research how the body can stop inflammatory pain. In this way, they hope to understand what goes wrong in people with chronic pain that does not go away. The ultimate long-term goal is new treatments for chronic pain.
The pain after inflammation or tissue damage usually goes away over time. But this does not happen in a significant proportion of patients with inflammatory diseases. They are still in pain, even after the inflammation is gone. Altogether, at least one in five people suffers from chronic pain. A large percentage of them have an inflammatory condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, or an inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn’s disease). In order to develop new treatments for this type of persistent pain, experts must first understand how inflammatory pain naturally develops. And most importantly, how this kind of pain disappears again.
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Research group of Dr. Nils Egelkamp Translational Immunology Center The CTI has been trying to understand how (chronic) pain works for some time now. At the end of last year, his group, together with that of Professor Lindy Megaard, published a scientific article on the role that macrophages play in pain.
Macrophages are immune cells that attack and eat pathogens. “We’ve known for some time that these cells have many tasks,” says Eaglekamp. “They also play a role in stopping the pain.” Researchers have discovered that mitochondrial macrophages (the cell’s energy factories) It can reach the nerve cells† These nerve cells transmit pain signals from inflamed tissues, which is why a person feels pain. “We found that mitochondrial release helps stop the pain,” says Eaglekamp.
Answer the questions
How this works unfortunately is not yet clear. Eijkelkamp: “As you often see in scientific research, our study also raised questions.” With the money NWO has now, a pain expert can take the next step. He will conduct lab research with immunologist Dr. Michael van der Velst, who knows a lot about the immune system (macrophages).
The two experts hope to better understand how the nervous and immune systems talk to each other. They will achieve this by answering a number of questions. Questions like: How do you attract connective neurons that can stop pain? What causes macrophages to stop the pain? And what exactly changes in neurons when they receive mitochondria (“energy factories”) from macrophages?
By answering these questions, researchers hope to better understand how post-inflammatory pain goes away. “We can use this knowledge to develop new treatments for chronic pain,” van der Velst says. “How great would it be if we could one day help 1.5 billion people get rid of their chronic pain?”
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