New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Dentistry school receives $8M to study oral cancer treatments

Researchers from three universities, including NYU, will use the funding to find ways to treat chronic pain without the use of opioids.
Min Ji Kim
NYU College of Dentistry is located at 345 E. 24th St. (Min Ji Kim for WSN)

The National Institutes of Health awarded the College of Dentistry’s Pain Research Center with an $8 million grant to support research toward treatments for oral cancer as an alternative to opioids. The funding is a part of Helping to End Addiction Long-term, an NIH initiative aiming to prevent and treat the overuse of opioids in the United States.

Opioid prescription is currently the “gold standard” for alleviating chronic pain, according to Yi Ye, one of the principal investigators involved in the research. Ye, a professor in NYU Dentistry’s oral and maxillofacial surgery department, told WSN that while opioids are often prescribed for oral cancer pain relief, they can have addictive and fatal effects. 

Nigel Bunnett, another principal investigator and chair of the school’s molecular pathobiology department, told WSN that chronic pain is experienced by one in five people at some point in their lives — and yet, researchers don’t have a good understanding of why chronic pain occurs.

“Oral cancer pain is one of the most painful cancers because patients with oral cancer can’t talk, they can’t eat and they can’t drink without experiencing excruciating pain,” Bunnett said in an interview with WSN. “It has a huge effect on their quality of life. This grant seeks to develop an understanding of how this pain occurs, with the intent of developing new treatments for cancer pain which are not opioids.”

Researchers from NYU, Columbia University and the University of Florida will use the grant to develop small particles, also known as nanoparticles, to help scientists study pain and how pain signals move throughout the body. Alongside Columbia’s biomedical engineering department and the Tandon School of Engineering, the research team will observe how pain receptors released from tumors spread pain signals to other nearby cells. The team hopes the small particles can reduce pain by blocking the signaling pathways. 

Nathalie Pinkerton, a chemical and biomolecular engineering professor at Tandon, explained in a statement to WSN that when researchers shine a special light on the nanoparticles, they release substances that make pain signals stronger or weaker. Pinkerton said the scientists are working to ensure that when these substances are released, they leave behind a glowing marker to clarify when and where in the cell they were released.

“Every year in the United States alone, 100,000 people die of drug overdose and that’s mainly opioids,” Bunnett said. “This has been going on for decades. It got worse during COVID-19. In the past 10 years, a million people have died in the United States of drug overdose. That’s why we established the pain research center at NYU — to develop new and better treatments for pain.”

Contact Antonia Ang at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Min Ji Kim
Min Ji Kim, Video Editor
Min Ji Kim is a sophomore at Steinhardt majoring in Media, Culture, and Communications. She likes to express her creativity through art, video editing, filming, photography, music, etc. Hailing from Silicon Valley, she misses calculus and physics sometimes.

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