Current Research

Understanding the therapeutic potential of novel opioid receptor ligands

Anti-addiction pharmacotherapies

We are investigating how drugs that activate the kappa opioid receptor modulate drug-related behaviours such as reward, drug-seeking and relapse. We aim to develop safe effective anti-addiction pharmacotherapies by understanding the cellular mechanisms that are responsible for both the desirable anti-addiction effects as well as side-effects. Biased agonism is one mechanism that we are investigating for the development of safe and effective therapeutics.

Non-addictive pain medications

Abuse of prescription opioids are a major health concern. Compounds that activate the kappa-opioid receptor are effective in modulating pain without abuse liability, however side-effects currently limit their widespread clinical use. We are investigating the therapeutic potential of novel kappa-opioid agonists in preclinical models of acute, inflammatory and chronic neuropathic pain, and evaluating side-effects. Our aim to develop effective pain medications without abuse liability. We also evaluate a structurally novel class of mu-opioid ligands for development for analgesic effects and side effects.

Immunomodulatory effects of kappa opioids

Kappa opioids have anti-inflammatory properties, however the role they play in modulating the immune system has not been fully explored. In collaboration with the Cell and Immunobiology research group at the University we are exploring the role of kappa opioids on immune function.

Drug abuse

An area of particular research interest is focused on understanding the cellular action of drugs of abuse. In particular, how drugs of abuse modulate neurotransmitter transporters and receptors. We are interested in the cellular and molecular changes that occur in affected brain regions after methamphetamine, cigarette smoke, and cocaine exposure. We utilise behavioural models as well as cell culture models to elucidate the mechanism of action of drugs of abuse with the long-term goal of preventing or reversing these changes. Our laboratory uses techniques such as confocal microscopy, qPCR, proteomics, Western blotting, neurochemistry, immunocytochemistry and behavioural techniques including self-administration models to answer these questions.