Research on campus seeks to increase the effectiveness of painkillers

Some of the research projects conducted at Washington State University Vancouver are short lived with a clear start and end. Many other projects can create more questions than the ones they are intended to answer. Professor of Psychology Michael Morgan, Ph.D., leads one of these projects. He is studying the effects of opioids on the brain and the way the brain builds up resistances to those opioids. This project was brought to WSU Vancouver by Morgan, which evolved out of his graduate school research in 1984.

Morgan’s research seeks to answer questions about the natural systems of pain modulation, as well as the aspects of pain management, in both natural and synthetic drugs. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has sponsored this research project since 1998 through a variety of different grants. As a result of those grants, the main focus for the research is on the buildup of tolerance to opioids.

Morgan initially became interested in the topic on a broad scale because he was intrigued by the interaction between psychology and biology. His focus began to narrow when he saw some interesting studies on tolerance about 30 years ago, including a study which found that animals addicted to a drug while at a high tolerance could receive the usual dose, but would suffer an overdose. Another reason for his research is that “there is a small subset of students [that] suffer from chronic pain,” said Morgan, and he feels that he can help these people and improve their lives with better pain management. “[The project] could go on forever; we have more questions now than when we started.” He also indicated that if the funding runs out, it is difficult to maintain a lab for very long.

Morgan has a small team of research assistants consisting of one graduate student, Ram Kandesamy, and four undergraduate students. Three of the undergraduate students, Alex Tran, Vladimir Gasporyn and Jonas Calsbeek, work in the lab and the fourth, Jason Patterson, is contributing to an academic paper with Morgan. All of the undergraduate students are volunteers receiving class credit. In addition to his work on this project, Kandesamy is also working on a new method for assessing pain.

So far, the research has focused on the development of tolerance. This has mostly been explorations into the regions of the brain, which are sensitive to the presence of opioids, as well as finding the chemical changes in that region because of the body’s interaction with opioids. Morgan said that one of the interesting aspects of this exploration has been a discovery where the same cell will react to different opioids in different manners. Morgan feels that some of the next steps would include the synthesis of a “designer receptor” which can be used to activate specific cells in the brain to help with the management of pain.

While Morgan does not currently have any need for additional research volunteers, he is working on a grant proposal which has the potential of funding some paid research opportunities. Anyone interested in those positions should get involved with a neuroscience lab as soon as possible. The most likely scenario for any paid research positions on this project would be offers for summer semester extended to current lab participants. Additionally, students involved with any of the labs researching drug addictions can apply for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program (ADARP), which provides funding to students who wish to be involved with drug addiction research. Information on the application can be found at public.wsu.edu/~adap/.

Anyone interested in more information on Morgan’s research can find more through database searches, such as PubMed or NIH official library, or by visiting Morgan’s website at directory.vancouver.wsu.edu/people/michael-morgan, where he has listed his research as well as recent publications. For anyone seeking more information beyond that, Morgan said that the best way to contact him is via email at mmmorgan@vancouver.wsu.edu.

Photo features Michael Morgan and Ran Kandasamy

Print Friendly

Comments are closed.