Meet the BSF-funded doctors who want to ease your pain – literally.
Ask anyone who gets persistent migraines or backaches; chronic pain makes life difficult, even among those who “grin and bear it.” However, a promising BSF-funded study aims to change the way scientists study chronic pain – and ultimately pave the way for more effective pain medications.
The pain research team at the Albert
Einstein College of Medicine. Sitting, from left: Dr. Regina Hanstein and Dr.
Maria Gulinello. Standing, from left: Dr. David Spray and Dr. Menachem Hanani.
The project is a partnership between Dr. Menachem Hanani of Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, and Drs. David C. Spray and Maria Gulinello of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. While most pain medicines are directed at nerves, this team is focusing on another type of cells in the nervous system, called glial cells. Molecular structures in these cells, known as “gap junctions” and “pannexins”, function as pathways between cells in the nervous system. The BSF funding allows the scientists to use advanced methods to learn how changes in these cells influence the nerves, which in turn transmit pain impulses to the brain.
Spray and Hanani have been collaborating with each other for 12 years. They both credit BSF funding as a main factor that has given Hanani the opportunity to work with Spray and his team at the Einstein College of Medicine.
“With the know-how and equipment at Dr. Spray’s lab, we obtained important results on the spread of signals (called "calcium waves") in sensory ganglia. These ganglia are the first station in the pain pathway, and the spread of these waves seems to be a key event in the generation of chronic pain,” said Hanani.
The pain research being conducted by Dr.
Spray and Dr. Hanani may one day lead to better treatment for chronic pain, such
Spray said that these discussions and joint experiments have been fundamental in shaping his understanding of how cell interaction affects chronic pain.
“The BSF funding has facilitated our development of behavioral models in which pain therapy can be tested,” he said.
Already, the team has discovered a large increase in the number of gap junctions within the pain pathways of mice when they are in pain. When mice are given drugs that block the gap junctions, the mice show decreased reactions to painful stimulations. The plan now is to further investigate changes in the gap junctions and pannexins in mouse pain models. The team will then test several drugs to find out if they can reduce these changes—and thus relieve the chronic pain.
Gap junctions have been Spray’s primary research interest. Hanani learned much about gap junctions from Spray, and he credits his collaborator’s expertise as being crucial to the discoveries they’ve made so far. While glial cells were once completely neglected in matters of pain research, other laboratories now work on these cells and the gap junction pathways that connect them.
When they’re not in the lab, Spray and Hanani are both exercise enthusiasts. Spray enjoys biking along the Einstein campus, while Hanani prefers running there. As athletes, they know a thing or two about pain. They hope their research will eventually enhance the lives of so many who endure the aches and the throbbing.
Dr. David Spray and Dr. Menachem Hanani in
deep discussion at the Bronx Botanical Garden.
“I believe this is one more example of how basic science can become transformative,” Hanani said.