New KHSC research will test novel pain-relieving drugs for bowel disease

News / Research
By Mary Anne Beaudette

One of the greatest unmet needs of patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is abdominal pain. Opioid drugs are the most effective treatment, but they have serious side effects.

However, new opioid drugs now in development offer longer-lasting pain relief with minimal side effects, and Dr. Stephen Vanner, a clinician-scientist at the KGH Research Institute and Queen’s University, is leading a new, three-year research project to see how well they work. 

Dr. Vanner, who is Director of the Gastrointestinal Diseases Research Unit at Kingston Health Sciences Centre, has been awarded $375,000 from Crohn’s and Colitis Canada to support early-stage laboratory research that will look at delivering these opioids to specific targets in pain-sensing nerves to reduce pain while mitigating side-effects of opioids. One of the drugs inhibits these pain–sensing nerves in a unique way that leads to sustained pain relief. Another targets these nerves only in inflamed tissues. “These particular drugs should have no effect on normal tissues, so they could limit or even prevent side effects,” Dr. Vanner says. 

This research builds on a large body of earlier IBD work by Dr. Vanner’s group into pain-signalling pathways that suggest these strategies will be effective. “If these approaches work, the next step could be clinical trials in patients,” he says. 

Approximately 1,100 Kingstonians live with IBD, according to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, and the number of Canadians with this disease is expected to jump from 270,000 to more than 400,000 by 2030. Canada has the highest rate of IBD in the world.