Chronic pain and mental health disorders are devastating problems, each affecting a large part of the population, diminishing quality of life and accruing enormous socio-economic costs. They remain inadequately treated, which reflects the limited efficacy and numerous side effects of existing treatments. There is therefore a crucial need for novel and alternative therapeutics to cure these conditions.
Yet, the enormous complexity of the brain seriously challenges our ability to discover new drugs to treat neurological diseases. There is however a current revolution in brain research brought about by the field of optogenetics, a new branch of biotechnology which allows us to use light to observe and control nerve cell function with unprecedented precision in the intact brain. Using this approach, one can test the action of new drugs while activating specific regions of the brain. Thus, drug testing occurs in the proper context, which can yield a much better drug discovery process.
However, harnessing this technology for discovery of novel analgesics requires the proper fibre-optics technology to be able to deliver light in precise, hard-to-get-to areas of the brain and spinal cord. The project aims at filling this gap by adapting new fiber optic-based technologies to produce easy-to-use systems for drug testing by the pharmaceutical industry. Turnkey versions of the technology will be developed and demonstration of their power for drug testing will be conducted by studying chemical transmission in the spinal cord involved in modulating pain transmission and in higher brain areas involved in complex behaviours.
This project is expected to yield innovative platforms to accelerate drug discovery and testing of new analgesics and psychopharmaceuticals.