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Blue light remote analgesia with K+ channels

Project description

Blue light means stop for rogue neurons sending false pain signals

Anyone living with chronic pain – and about one in every five people do worldwide – can attest to its debilitating physical effects and serious complications, including depression, anxiety and difficulty sleeping, with consequences for personal and professional relationships and even economic stability. Neuropathic pain is chronic pain arising from damaged nerves that send the wrong signals to the brain's pain centres. Nervous signal transmission involves a number of electrical and chemical signals, among which is the inhibitory effect of an influx of potassium ions. The EU-funded BREAK project is targeting potassium channels in neurons with a novel injectable analgesic. Blocking local neurons from signalling pain to the brain could provide relief from neuropathic pain for millions worldwide.


Chronic pain (CP) is a medical condition affecting around 20% of adults in Europe, characterised by an abnormal duration of pain (> 12 weeks) originally initiated by a trauma or illness. Despite significant progress, CP remains extremely hard to treat, with only one-third to two-thirds of patients reporting adequate some pain relief. This situation is even worse for neuropathic pain (NP), a specific class of CP affecting 8% of global population and whose origin mostly depend on peripheral or central nervous damage or disorder, which leads the brain to interpret as pain normally non painful stimuli. NP is difficult to treat due to the large number of entities involved (cells, genes and proteins working in synergy), which makes it hard to rapidly diagnose the exact cause of pain. Drugs targeting the central nervous system (e.g. antidepressants and opioids) provide only partial pain relief and are nonspecific, also causing side effects like addiction, and nausea, thus restraining their adoption for prolonged treatments.
BREAK is the first non-invasive inhibitory optogenetic tool specifically designed for NP treatment, with potential application to the whole spectrum of CP. BREAK is composed of a drug and an optical device. The protein BLINK2 is injected in the painful area using a genetically engineered virus, and respond to a specific blue light by silencing the addressed neuron. The lamp can be kept at some distance (cm) from the skin and no implant is required. Just some minutes of treatment results in hours of pain relief, making the invasiveness of BREAK far lower than actually existing solution.
A first version of BREAK has already demonstrated in in-vivo experiments on rats. During this project we plan to further develop the treatment and explore its commercial potential. In particular, leveraging from the experience of different partners, we will constitute a fruitful stakeholder network, including Academic centers, hospitals, pharma companies and investor

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 150 000,00
Via Festa Del Perdono 7
20122 Milano

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Nord-Ovest Lombardia Milano
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
No data

Beneficiaries (1)