Published Feb. 15, 2017

Impactful science can take its roots from just about anywhere, including, in this case, an informal chat between a pain management physician and a PhD researcher.

John Rose, MD, co-director of the Inpatient Pain Rehabilitation Program, was describing his anecdotal experience in utilizing growth hormone to treat a patient’s pain.

Researcher Michael Jankowski, of the Department of Anesthesia, was intrigued. “It sparked my interest in how a pituitary hormone may control pain in children,” he recalls.

That curiosity led to a study, in which Jankowski was senior author, that concluded that growth hormone can block inflammation-induced nociceptor sensitization during postnatal development.

This leads to reduced behaviors that mimic pain, possibly by suppressing the upregulation of an insulin-like growth factor 1 receptor called IGFr1 within dorsal root ganglia.

It was known that, in the dorsal root ganglia, cutaneous inflammation alters the function of primary afferents and gene expression, but the exact mechanisms of injury-induced sensitization and behavioral hypersensitivity were not fully understood. Neither was the way growth hormone in neonates appeared to affect nociception, the nervous system's normal response to harmful stimuli.

Future studies to understand more about how this process works could eventually lead to improved pain medications for children.

“The possibility of finding a new way to treat pain in children without the use of standard agents like opioids is incredibly exciting,” Jankowski says. “It is a driving force behind our work. The results of this study only solidify our aspirations to achieve this goal.”