A major focus of the Department of Pharmacology is Neuroscience research. Investigators in the department study the basic pharmacology of neurotransmission, how investigational drugs modulate this neurotransmission and how diseases that affect the brain might be better treated pharmacologically. Neuroscience research in the Department of Pharmacology includes drugs of abuse and substance abuse disorders, epilepsy and anticonvulsants, mechanisms of learning and memory, the impact of the blood brain barrier on disease and neuroactive drug penetration and mechanisms of chronic pain and analgesics. We study neural systems ranging from the peripheral sensory organs in the skin and eye to higher order brain centers involved in cognition.
In the area of Neuroscience, the Department of Pharmacology contains a large number of investigators studying basic mechanisms of pain and how clinical pain conditions can be better managed pharmacologically. Pain is ordinarily experienced as a transient event produced by events that result in, or has the potential to cause injury. From an evolutionary standpoint, normal pain sensitivity is protective, leading to avoidance of dangerous situations. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is a maladaptive and debilitating condition that can last for many months or even years. Such pain exerts a high social cost in terms of productivity, economic impact, and most importantly, quality of life.
Chronic pain can result from nerve trauma as in instances of neuropathic pain, persistent inflammation as in conditions of rheumatoid arthritis, or disease as with diabetes or cancer. Currently available therapies have limited success in treating chronic pain and are associated with disabling, often intolerable, side effects. Thus there is an urgent need to develop new mechanism-based therapies.
Investigators within the Arizona Pain Research Group examine factors driving chronic pain across a wide range of clinically relevant pain models. Current areas of investigation include cancer pain, skeletal pain, neuropathic pain, headache pain, and inflammation-induced pain. The expertise of the individual investigators encompass a spectrum of molecular, neurobiological and neuropharmacological techniques allowing for powerful collaborative efforts designed to address the question of the underlying causes of chronic pain. Such efforts will lead to discoveries of new targets for drug development with the ultimate goal of improved pain management.
In addition, ongoing collaborations with other groups within and outside the University of Arizona are actively exploring the development of novel pharmacological compounds. The goal in designing these novel agents is to provide better pain relief for chronic pain patients while minimizing adverse side effects associated with many current pain management therapies.