Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Unlocking the migraine puzzle

AN Auckland University scientist is trying to unlock the key to migraine treatment.
Senior lecturer Dr Debbie Hay is leading a study into a group of molecules believed to play a role in the painful illness.
Dr Hay, from the university’s School of Biological Sciences, uses a lock-and-key metaphor to explain the basis of her study and how it is opening the door to migraine knowledge.
The key is a hormone called calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which is found in people’s nerves.
“People who have migraines have more of this in their blood,” she says.
This hormone fits into a lock, called a receptor.
When this happens, it causes blood vessels to open up. In medical terms, the hormone is a naturally occurring vasodilator. Migraine pain is thought to be caused by blood vessels in the brain opening up, allowing more blood to flow through them.
“That’s one of the reasons we think CGRP might be involved in migraines,” Dr Hay says.
But she is frank about scientists’ knowledge of the hormone’s role in migraines. “We don’t know if it’s causative or part of the process.”
In fact, the hormone is proving a bit of a mystery. “We don’t know exactly why we have it…we don’t know its true function yet. We know it has this relationship with migraines.”
Clinical trials overseas have shown that a new drug, which prevents the key fitting into the lock, or the hormone activating the receptor, is effective in treating migraines.
“The problem is that it has to be given by injection, which is not ideal,” Dr Hay says.
“We need to be able to design a better drug.”
This is where her research programme comes in. “I’m working very much at the molecular level to see how this drug interacts with the receptor so we might be able to design more useful drugs.”
a $492,000 biomedical grant from the Health Research Council of New Zealand is funding the three-year Auckland study.
“It’s an ongoing thing – it contributes to the global drug discovery process.”
Dr Hay says her work does not involve human samples or clinical trials, but she does consider the reality of her research. “I know people in the building who have migraines and I’m always very interested in them; it’s always important to talk to the end user.”

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