Unique Partnership to assist commercialization

Sep. 3, 2014

Gerald Zamponi, PhD
Gerald Zamponi, PhD – Alberta/Pfizer Translational Research Fund Opportunity Recipient

It’s in the brain where we perceive the unpleasant sensations of pain, and researchers have long been examining how calcium channels in the brain and peripheral nervous system contribute to the development of chronic pain conditions.

Neuroscientist Gerald Zamponi, PhD, and his team at the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute have discovered a new mechanism that can reverse chronic pain. Using an animal model, their research has found that pain signals in nerve cells can be shut off by interfering with the communication of a specific enzyme with calcium channels, a group of important proteins that control nerve impulses.

Their Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) funded study was published in the September issue of Neuron – one of the most influential journals in the field of neuroscience.

Zamponi is now applying his research and partnering with the Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD) in Vancouver to develop a drug that could one day improve the lives of those with inflammatory pain such as arthritis, irritable bowel disease or neuropathic pain. Their approach may be able to reduce the pain associated with these conditions.

“Chronic pain can be a debilitating condition that affects many people and is often poorly controlled by currently available treatments. Therefore, new treatment avenues are needed. Our discovery opens the door towards new treatments, and based on the data that we have so far, it is a viable strategy,” says Zamponi, the lead author of the study and senior associate dean of research at the Cumming School of Medicine.

With CDRD, Zamponi and his team are screening over 100,000 molecules in hopes of finding one that would stop the enzyme from communicating with the calcium channel. If they can isolate the right molecule, they can potentially turn it into a drug. So far, they have already found two viable molecules that have been validated by his group as painkillers in animals.

Commercialization of the project is possible as Zamponi and his team are one of six successful projects funded through the competition of the Alberta/Pfizer Translational Research Fund Opportunity. “AIHS is delighted that the strong partnership created with Pfizer, Western Economic Diversification, and Alberta Innovation and Advanced Education is helping to develop promising innovations from basic research into technologies, drugs, and tools to improve health,” says Dr. Cy Frank, President & CEO of Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions.”

The Alberta/Pfizer Translational Research Fund Opportunity is a partnership between Pfizer Canada Inc. (Pfizer), Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS), Alberta’s Ministry of Innovation and Advanced Education (IAE), and Western Economic Diversification (WD) Canada. This partnership will provide opportunities to focus on the development and commercialization of innovations in health. More than $3.25 million has been committed to identify and support promising health care innovations with market potential.

 

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Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions supports research and innovation activities to improve the health and wellbeing of Albertans and create health related social and economic benefits for Albertans. AIHS provides leadership for Alberta’s health research and innovation enterprise by directing, coordinating, reviewing, funding and supporting research and innovation. For more information see: www.aihealthsolutions.ca.

About the University of Calgary The University of Calgary is a leading Canadian university located in the nation’s most enterprising city. The university has a clear strategic direction to become one of Canada’s top five research universities by 2016, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university’s Gaelic motto, which translates as ‘I will lift up my eyes.’ For more information, visit ucalgary.ca. Stay up to date with University of Calgary news headlines on Twitter @UCalgary and in our media centre at ucalgary.ca/news/media

The Hotchkiss Brain Institute Currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) at the University of Calgary, consists of more than 100 scientists and clinician-scientists who are dedicated to advancing brain and mental health research and education. The Institute’s research strengths in foundational neuroscience (axon biology and regeneration, cerebral circulation, neural systems and behaviour) are leading to new treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders, aimed at improving quality of life and patient care. More information on the HBI can be found at www.hbi.ucalgary.ca.

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