Research in Dr. Wang’s laboratory concentrates on 1) understanding mechanisms of chronic pain and drug addiction, and 2) developing new pharmacological treatments for these conditions. We apply the power of molecular pharmacology, neurobiology pharmacogenetics, targeted delivery, and others, in our studies. Currently, several research directions are being pursued:
A major objective of the laboratory is to understand the mechanisms leading to chronic pain, opioid tolerance and addiction, and opioid-induced hyperalgesia. These seemingly unrelated disease states are hypothesized to share certain common underlying mechanisms. Studies are examining the role of epigenetics and phosphorylation. Another project aims to establish a cellular model to study cancer pain. We are also studying whether various protein kinases work in concert in chronic pain and addiction.
We are also interested in developing new therapeutic targets as well as novel drugs that can be used for the treatment of pain, drug addiction and other related CNS problems. Of the focus of pain conditions are the pain in sickle cell disease, and chemotherapy-induced pain. We have an array of cellular markers and in vivo tests that can be used to study both ongoing/spontaneous pain, as well as evoked hypersensitivity to evoked stimuli. One project evaluates TRPs, including TRPV1 (receptor for capsaicin, the pungent constituent in hot pepper) and novel ligands for treating chronic pain. Other studies are identifying and charactering novel CNS-active ingredients from botanical herbs. We have identified that phenothiazine antipsychotic drugs such as trifluoperazine and haloperidolmay be of use for fighting drug addiction, improving analgesic action of opioids, and directly attenuating chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain.
An area often being overlooked is applying knowledge from basic research to benefit patients suffering from inadequate pain control or drug addiction. A key obstacle is the lack of a potential therapeutic agent’s accessibility to intracellular targets and/or tissue/cell-specificity. A third focus in the lab is to develop nanomedicine for targeted drug delivery for pain and drug addiction. One study is testing novel nanoparticles to carry drugs across the blood brain barrier to specific neurons, and if needed, to intracellular compartments. Another study aims to design PLGA curcumin for pain and opioid addiction.
Finally, we are interested in understanding the molecular genetics of pain and pharmacogenetics of pain therapies (in particular opioids). We are applying the candidate gene approach to evaluate the inter-individual variability in pain and pain control by polymorphisms in neurotransmitter receptors (e.g., mu opiate receptor) and their signaling proteins (e.g., protein kinase C).