UArizona, Oklahoma State University announce addiction research partnership
The partnership will advance pain and addiction research and accelerate positive health outcomes in Arizona, Oklahoma and across the country.

University of Arizona Health Sciences
May 4, 2022

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A new partnership between academic medical centers at the University of Arizona and Oklahoma State University involves sharing research assets and knowledge, as well as the preclinical and clinical expertise gleaned from years of research and treatment by scientists and clinicians at both academic medical centers. From left: Todd Vanderah, Frank Porreca, Michael D. Dake, Kayse Shrum, Robert C. Robbins, Johnny Stevens and Don Kyle. Kris Hanning/University of Arizona Health Sciences

The academic medical centers at the University of Arizona and Oklahoma State University have joined forces to combat the opioid crisis and chronic pain through research, treatment and education.

University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins and Kayse Shrum, president of Oklahoma State University, announced the partnership last week.

The partnership will share institutional resources from three research centers – the University of Arizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center, known as CPAC; the National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded Center for Excellence in Addiction Studies at UArizona Health Sciences, known as CEAS; and the OSU Center for Health Sciences' National Center for Wellness & Recovery, or NCWR – to advance pain and addiction research and accelerate positive health outcomes in Arizona, Oklahoma and across the country.

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Todd Vanderah
Todd Vanderah, director of the UArizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center Kris Hanning/University of Arizona Health Sciences

The NCWR has access to approximately 18,000 novel research molecules from Purdue Pharma that were designed to target neuronal mechanisms associated with chronic pain and addiction. In addition, there are 40,000 to 50,000 human biosamples from consenting patients enrolled in more than 20 Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials involving opioids and non-opioids. Recently, the NCWR has begun collecting additional biosamples from patients suffering from addiction or who are in recovery and undergoing treatment at NCWR treatment centers in Oklahoma. These unique assets, collected over more than two decades, allow research into risk factors, causes and potential treatments for addiction and chronic pain.

The CPAC is composed of a group of world-class scientists with expertise in the overlapping neurobiology of chronic pain and addiction whose work will be strengthened by the availability of novel chemical matter from the NCWR. The CEAS will provide expertise in genetic targeting, the use of neuroanalytical methods, large data analysis and advanced behavioral assessment of these drug-like substances, providing the critical data that can lead to advancement to clinical trials. Additionally, both the CPAC and the CEAS are committed to training paraprofessionals in substance use disorder for the workforce and educating students as well as creating a Southwestern Region Addiction Network with collaborations with university investigators in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

"The most important beneficiaries of this partnership will be millions of people who suffer from pain or are at risk of addiction and their families. Given the extreme need to address the opioid crisis, it's a strategic priority," Robbins said. "Funds from the strategic plan have helped support the Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center. In addition, the New Economy Initiative (funds) from the state legislature and the governor have been used to grow the center and will be a key in strengthening this OSU partnership. This is one of those true rare win-win situations. We believe that by tackling chronic pain and opioid use disorder together, the University of Arizona and OSU will lead us to discovery of novel nonaddictive treatments for those with chronic pain while discovering new ways to treat substance use disorder."

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Frank Porreca
Frank Porreca, principal investigator for the Center of Excellence in Addiction Studies grant Kris Hanning/University of Arizona Health Sciences

The goals of the three research centers are aligned with the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the National Institutes of Health's Helping to End Addiction Long-term initiative, known as HEAL. They are focused on combating the opioid crisis, ameliorating the suffering of chronic pain while decreasing opioid use, finding alternatives to opioids for treating acute and chronic pain, promoting recovery and prevention of relapse from opioid use disorder, as well as developing rapidly acting medications for opioid overdose through advancement of novel chemistry, biology, therapies, clinical trials and education.

"This partnership has the potential to significantly advance the fields of pain and addiction research on a national level," said Dr. Michael D. Dake, senior vice president for the University of Arizona Health Sciences. "Our faculty have decades of experience and expertise researching the mechanisms of pain and addiction, but we recognize the need for more research to help those who are affected by chronic pain and substance use disorder."

In addition to their general populations, Arizona and Oklahoma are home to Indigenous populations affected by drug addiction. The two universities share a commitment to addressing the impact of substance use disorders and chronic pain in those populations.

"The partnership will accelerate our ability to discover novel medications, devices and therapies to help those who suffer from substance use disorder and chronic pain," said Todd Vanderah, director of the UArizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center and professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology in the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson. "This relationship will leverage each institution's research strengths, their dedication to clinical care and their passion to make a change."

The partnership involves sharing research assets and knowledge, as well as the preclinical and clinical expertise gleaned from years of research and treatment by scientists and clinicians at both academic medical centers.

The University of Arizona Health Sciences' CPAC and CEAS bring together world-class laboratory spaces along with preclinical and clinical expertise that can promote development of novel, non-opioid therapies based on existing chemical entities from NCWR as well as new chemistry and biology that can be jointly pursued by the three groups.

"This partnership provides an unprecedented opportunity to address the unmet medical need of chronic pain that affects about 1 in 3 Americans while diminishing opioid use and associated risks of addiction and overdose deaths," said Frank Porreca, Cosden Professor of Pain and Addiction Studies in the Department of Pharmacology at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson and principal investigator on the Center of Excellence for Addiction Studies grant. "The partnership also will provide unique educational opportunities for young people in Arizona and in Oklahoma that will enhance innovative research in chronic pain and addiction."

CPAC is funded in part by New Economy Initiative state funding to the University of Arizona and allocated to UArizona Health Sciences.

A version of this article originally appeared on the UArizona Health Sciences website.

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Stacy Pigott

University of Arizona Health Sciences

Margarita Bauzá

University of Arizona Health Sciences