New leader secures funds for magic mushroom pain research
17 April 2023
Dr Maria Maiarù, University of Reading, has secured nearly £100K to fund her chronic pain research over two years. She aims to uncover the mechanisms by which psilocybin – the psychedelic drug found in magic mushrooms - may help alleviate or treat pain.
The Academy of Medical Sciences Springboard Award is awarded to biomedical and health researchers in their first independent post. The aim is to help launch the careers of promising new research leaders. Dr Maiarù will use the award to cover research expenses and to employ a research assistant to work on the project.
Dr Maiarù said: “Chronic pain is very common, with perhaps 20% of people experiencing it to some degree. Unfortunately most patients do not receive adequate pain relief. And even when pain relief is available, the drugs are often not ideal for long-term pain management. Opiates, for example, work well for pain but carry enormous risk of addiction and overdose if taken for more than a few days.”
Psilocybin has received considerable interest due to evidence that it can rapidly reduce symptoms of depression in patients resistant to antidepressant drugs. While its value in treating chronic pain has not been extensively studied, there is evidence that it can reduce phantom limb pain and migraine.
Initially, Dr Maiarù’s work will focus on animal models of chronic pain. This involves monitoring the behavioural and biological changes in mice, following psilocybin treatment. The plan is compare these results with the animal’s response to antidepressant drugs.
Brain imaging also comes into play in the project. Dr Maiarù will measure brain activity to see if psilocybin is impacting the areas in the brain known to be altered by chronic pain. The expectation is that psilocybin can modulate these brain regions and hence will reduce the amount of nerve pain someone with a long-term pain condition experiences. The effect of psilocybin is well-documented to include rebalancing of brain activity in rodents and humans.
Dr Suzanne Candy, Director of Biomedical Grants & Policy at the Academy of Medical Sciences, said: “Together with our partners, we are fortunate to be able to support this talented group of researchers doing excellent science. Our strategic ambition is to help create an open and progressive research sector. By investing in these individuals and teams, we are broadening the range of people and disciplines engaged in biomedical and health research, across all regions of the UK, and globally.
“We look forward to supporting our award recipients and seeing how their research has a positive impact on the health of people everywhere.”
image: "Magical Lantern Festival Birmingham - Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Edgbaston - mushrooms - A Bugs Life" by ell brown is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.