Carolyn Fairbanks, PhD researches novel compounds with a pharmacokinetic/dynamic profile ideal for spinal delivery for pain relief. One major focus is the continued characterization and clinical translation of the alpha2C adrenergic receptor. The spinal cord contains alpha2C adrenergic receptors on intrinsic spinal neurons which, when activated by agonists, inhibit action potentials that transmit the pain signal from the periphery to the brain. Dr. Fairbanks’ studies have used methods that incorporate the use of transgenic mice, antisense oligonucleotides and immunocytochemistry.
The spinal cord carries pain signals to the brain via excitatory neurotransmission and contains most of the same inhibitory neurotransmission systems as the brain. Spinal delivery of analgesics that activate such inhibitory systems offers a very selective method of pain control that can increase the therapeutic index of such analgesics by reducing or eliminating their exposure to brain regions that mediate undesired side effects.
A second interest of Dr. Fairbanks’ team includes understanding the basic spinal neural mechanisms (glutamate-induced plasticity) governing induction chronic pain as well as opioid-induced tolerance and addiction. Her laboratory currently researches the role of an endogenous amine, agmatine (decarboxylated arginine), in those biological events. Studies of glutamatergic and agmatinergic neurotransmission in the spinal cord apply behavioral, biochemical, immunocytochemical and molecular techniques. Acquiring such information may lead to the development of a novel class of spinally delivered drugs intended for reversing (rather than alleviating) the effects of chronic pain.