UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry awarded $9.8 million NIH grant that could help curb opioid use

Study of jaw-joint sensory neurons with aim of creating safer pain treatments

Contact: Steven Lee, 210-450-3823, [email protected]

San Antonio, January 23, 2023 — UT Health San Antonio’s School of Dentistry has received a major five-year $9.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate how sensory neurons in the jaw joint and muscles of mastication affect movement and pain produce, which may lead to safer alternatives to the drug. Taking painkillers while helping to curb addiction.

The grant is one of five awarded recently by the Restoring Joint Health and Function to Reduce Pain (RE-JOIN) Consortium, an NIH effort to accelerate scientific solutions to address the national opioid public health crisis. Billed as. These awards are funded by Help Ending Long Term Addiction Initiative, or NIH HEAL Initiativeand NIH’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), which is administering the grant.

Joint and muscle pain are often cited as contributing factors to opioid overuse disorders.

Armen Akopian, PhD

“This effort is the basis for eventually developing drugs to replace opioids, so that when someone goes to the dentist with severe jaw joint and facial muscle pain, he or she doesn’t have just one option to control it.” Will be,” said Armen Akopian, PhD. professor of endodontics at UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry, and principal investigator and project leader of the school’s re-join grant. “It’s a purpose-built alternative pain reliever.”

The original grant approval contributed to a record annual research grant funding of $35 million for the School of Dentistry in fiscal year 2022. Overall, UT Health San Antonio is the largest research institution in South Texas.

The team, led by Akopian, a 27-year veteran of pain research, will create 3-D maps of the different types of sensory neurons found in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and the masticatory muscles, known as jaw joint structures. In doing so, they will try to better understand how the nerves are distributed, or innervated, in the different tissues of the joint.

In turn, that information is expected to be used to develop novel, more precise therapies to reduce joint pain and deterioration as well as restore healthy joints. And with it, help meet the broader health goal.

Announcing the five grant awards, NIAMS Director Lindsay A. “We can potentially reduce the burden of opioid dependence and ultimately help end the opioid epidemic,” said Criswell, MD, MPH, DSc.

UT Health San Antonio’s award is one of two focusing on the TMJ, which Creswell calls one of the most understood joints in the body. The other three grants are directed towards the knee, which is one of the most stressed joints in the body.

“All of these projects will use state-of-the-art technologies, unique methodologies, and a wide range of animal models and human samples to help develop 3-D innervation maps, which in turn will serve as a blueprint for future research on innervation.” Other couples,” Creswell said.

“There will also be a focus on understanding how the types and patterns of sensory and sympathetic neuron networks in joints change with disease and aging, and how they differ between individuals based on age, sex, or disease,” she said. Told. “Understanding and mapping the innervation of the joints is the first step toward developing targeted therapies that may help reduce and potentially eliminate opioid dependence.”

Other investigators on Akopian’s team for the grant include Mario Danilo Boada Donoso, PhD, assistant professor of anesthesiology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine; Malin Ernberg, DDS, PhD, Professor in Clinical Oral Physiology, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden; and Lindsey McPherson, PhD, assistant professor in neuroscience, developmental and regenerative biology, The University of Texas at San Antonio.


University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UT Health San Antonio), a primary driver of San Antonio’s $44.1 billion health care and biosciences sector, is the largest research institution in South Texas with an annual research portfolio of $360 million. Exercising substantial economic impact with its six professional schools, diverse workforce of more than 7,900, annual operating budget of $1.08 billion and clinical practices providing 2.6 million patient visits each year, UT Health San Antonio employs more than 1,500 Planned to add high-pay. Jobs over the next five years to serve San Antonio, Bexar County and South Texas. Visit UTHealthSA.org to learn about the many ways “We Make Life Better®.”

UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry Offers 17 degrees and programs in both dentistry and dental hygiene, world-renowned faculty faculty, a diverse student population, state-of-the-art clinical facilities, and a prestigious research enterprise. Departments include comprehensive dentistry, developmental dentistry, endodontics, periodontics, and oral and maxillofacial surgery. Scientists collaborate with clinicians and research teams from around the world, and work across a range of medical and dental disciplines to find new treatments, advance knowledge of oral health, biomaterials, cancer, pain and more. To learn more, visit https://www.uthscsa.edu/academics/dental.

Stay connected with The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.

Leave a Comment