Varamini abstract

Natural morphine-like compounds found in the human body are offering new hope to patients with untreatable chronic pain such as cancer-related pain.

One in five Australians, including adolescents and children, live with chronic pain and this type of pain is estimated to affect 1.5 to 8% of the population worldwide.

The so-called “endomorphins” were discovered in 1997 but, until recently, effective methods for administering the compounds have eluded scientists.

Up until now, the natural compound has been so unstable it has only been effective if delivered directly into the brain, however, new modifications mean that it's now effective orally.

The breakthrough is thanks to researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ), who have created modified synthetic endomorphins and are now preparing them for preclinical trials.

It is hoped these synthetic morphine-like compounds can be developed as novel painkillers for human use to relieve untreatable chronic pain.

“Endomorphins offer hope not only to cancer patients but also to people suffering from pain arising from trauma, diseases like AIDS, certain toxins and chemotherapeutic agents,” said Professor Istvan Toth, who led the research team at UQ’s School of Chemistry & Molecular Biosciences.

“With traditional morphine there are significant well known problems such as constipation and respiratory depression (where patients stop breathing effectively).”

“However, these issues are significantly reduced by using these natural compounds [endomorphins] in place of morphine.” he said.

The research was recently published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

Also involved in this research is Persian Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Pegah Varamini, who recently completed her PhD at UQ.

Pegah is an accomplished performer/pianist, leading the ensemble Hezar Ava.

She formed this ensemble in January 2010, with a focus on the authentic and traditional music of Iran.

“The inspiration of music has always been extended into my academic life." said Pegah

"Music balances my thought to have a better focus on my research work.

"I believe I would never have achieved as much in science without it.” she said.

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