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NCCIH Research Blog

Focusing on Nature for New Sources of Analgesic Compounds

July 1, 2019

D. Craig Hopp, Ph.D.

D. Craig Hopp, Ph.D.

Deputy Director

Division of Extramural Research

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

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I’d like to tell you today about a couple of exciting NCCIH activities in the past few months with respect to our research interest in natural products.

On February 6, we cosponsored a 1-day workshop at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on “Natural Products and Pain: The Search for Novel Nonopioid Analgesics” with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. A video recording of this event is available at NIH Videocast.

The workshop represented two of the Center’s top research priorities—natural products and pain—and brought together speakers and attendees from academia, industry, and NIH and other Government bodies. They shared successes and challenges in identifying new leads for promising compounds that could treat pain effectively, safely, and nonaddictively and/or serve as probes to study the biology of pain.

NCCIH has long had a substantial portfolio in natural products, both in potential interventions and in technologies and methodologies to advance the field. The backdrop to this workshop was the national opioid crisis, which is related to crises of pain and addiction. The Center co-leads or participates in several NIH initiatives in this area, including the Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM (HEAL) Initiative.

At the workshop, I was impressed by the quality of science presented, the lively discussions, and the fascinating range of product sources—from plants, animals, and arachnids to marine sources to microbes such as bacteria. “Natural products” (and NCCIH) are not just about “herbs, leaves, and roots.”

Several other themes I particularly noted were that:

  • This field needs more resources such as libraries, repositories, or databases of compounds, peptides, genomes, etc., to facilitate research and the development of new products.
  • Investigators called for more explicit, targeted support of early-phase discovery work.
  • The field needs more contact and collaboration across multiple disciplines, e.g., between natural product chemists and pain researchers.

As part of followup to the workshop, I presented a research concept, “Natural Products and Pain,” to the National Advisory Council for Complementary and Integrative Health at its June 7 meeting. In a multiphased approach, the concept would support development of a coordinated platform of activities, integrated at all levels into those of the HEAL Initiative, for translational research on natural products and pain. The concept was passed by Council and may pave the way for future funding opportunities.

As NCCIH continues its work to improve the understanding and management of pain through extramural and intramural projects, please continue to visit our website and our other information channels. You’ll find updates on, for example, funding opportunity announcements, research results, and NCCIH’s health information.

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