CAMDEN, NJ — In an effort to reduce chronic pain patients’ reliance on opioids, a Rutgers University–Camden researcher is looking for a nonaddictive way to treat pain.

Nathan Fried, an assistant professor of biology, is studying the brain’s role in determining how humans perceive different types of pain, and how different techniques and methods can be used to treat it.

Opioids have been used for centuries to treat some forms of pain effectively, but Fried explains that there are types of pain that could be relieved using other methods as well, such as acupuncture, skin-applied electrical nerve stimulators or even mitochondrial supplements, which work with a patient’s mitochondria to increase their ability to use oxygen to produce energy.

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In his research, Fried had been studying how these different techniques work to relieve pain, but has now turned his sights onto how sleep patterns affect pain.

“The general idea here is for a number of chronic pain patients, especially (those with) fibromyalgia, if you treat the underlying sleep condition you can actually improve their chronic pain condition,” said Fried.

Fried’s interest in the opioid epidemic stems from the devastating effect it has had on his hometown of Riverside. Some acquaintances and friends have struggled with drug use disorders, with a few of his former classmates dying from opioid overdoses.

Like many people who are addicted to opioids, Fried recalled, his friends developed an addiction after their doctors prescribed opioids, such as Percocet, to treat pain from an injury.

He believes his research might open up a new therapeutic target for pharmaceutical companies to find a nonaddictive alternative to opioids for chronic pain patients.

Through his work in the lab, Fried hopes to engage and inspire a new generation of scientists from Rutgers‒Camden by giving low-income and first-generation undergraduate students an opportunity to do meaningful lab work as part of their courses.

Calling the projects “bite-size authentic research experiences within the curriculum,” Fried plans to create an environment for students to develop skills that will help lead them to a career in a science field.

“Whether they go to medical school, to pursue a Ph.D., if they go into the work force, whatever they end up doing, we want to make sure they are very competitive,” Fried said.

He added that many Rutgers‒Camden students who would like to conduct research are not able work as an unpaid intern in a lab because they need to work part time to pay for living expenses. Having an opportunity to conduct research as part of their classwork, he said, would open doors for them to obtain research experience and possibly have their findings published in scientific journals.

Fried aims to make a career in science accessible to everyone, especially students whose upbringing is similar to his.

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