Extreme Pain Relieved With Fewer Side Effects

Armen Hareyan's picture

Relieve The Pain

A team of researchers from the University of Sheffield is developing powerful new drugs to relieve the pain of sufferers of cancer and other serious medical conditions, without causing the toxic side effects of morphine. The team's research, led by Professor Sam Ahmedzai of the University's Academic Unit of Supportive Care, is featured on Channel Four's Dispatches documentary, On Pain of Death, on Monday 18 July 2005 at 8pm.

The documentary focuses on what it claims are serious shortcomings in pain relief provision in the National Health Service. However, it highlights the way in which the University of Sheffield team, based at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, is striving to reverse these shortcomings by developing new research-based treatments for the pain suffered by people with serious and life threatening medical conditions.

Professor Sam Ahmedzai's team has pioneered the use of synthetic opioid drugs, such as fentanyl and hydromorphone, as an alternative to morphine and codeine. These new drugs have been shown to be up to 75 times more powerful than traditional methods of pain relief and yet have reduced side effects in the patients involved in trials. The researchers have also led the way in using new ways of delivering drugs to patients, including methods such as skin patches, oral lozenges and rectal suppositories. These new methods of targeting pain relief are beneficial as they ensure that most patients can continue to receive powerful drugs, even when they cannot swallow medication, and therefore avoid uncomfortable injections.


The team has also conducted extensive research which involves working closely with patients and their families to come to a better understanding of the emotional, social and physiological aspects of different types of pain relief, such as the devastating results of many morphine side effects.

Professor Ahmedzai explains: "At the University of Sheffield we are working with patients to develop drugs and drug delivery methods that provide people with serious illnesses with the best possible pain relief, thus enabling them to face either life-saving treatments or terminal illness with greater resolve and dignity.

"We are moving away from the traditional use of morphine, which can be effective but can cause many toxic effects, and are working with industry to deliver synthetic drugs which have been tested in the laboratory to increase their potency but minimise side effects. Many of these new drugs can be delivered in innovative ways to give effective, flexible and controllable relief to people suffering great pain from cancers and other conditions.

"Our local and international research shows that, when given the choice, patients overwhelmingly prefer the newer approaches we have pioneered."