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Research team seeks ways to use opiates for more effective pain management

A research team is looking to create/modify an enzyme for pain medication with fewer side effects. File photo/ Global News

A research team from across Canada is looking into how natural opiates are produced and how they can be used for more effective pain management.

Pain medications are known to cause many side effects and carry the possibility of addiction.

The research team is focusing on one enzyme it found at the Canadian Light Source facility at the University of Saskatchewan (USask.)

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It’s part of the codeine creation process and comes from the poppy.

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University of Calgary PhD student Samuel Carr highlighted the importance of a machine at the Canadian Light Source that produces different kinds of light to study materials on the molecular level.

“It’s actually critical. We can’t do this work without the synchrotron,” Carr said. “Without it, it would be impossible to image the enzyme.”

University of Windsor professor Ken Ng says opiates like morphine and codeine provide many patients with relief, from anything from the ache felt after mild surgery to chronic pain experienced by cancer patients. However, this type of medication can cause multiple side effects and can lead to physical dependency with long-term use. Improving pain medication would help millions of people to have a better quality of life.

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Carr says these are the initial steps to hopefully one day provide an effective means to create a pain medication with fewer side effects.

“Imagine this sort of like an assembly line,” Carr said. “There are a lot of different steps in this specific pathway, and each enzyme contributes a different step from the starting product to the finished drug.

“We would need to modify the enzyme in order to further our research and the process of reaching our end goal.”

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