Developing an ethical, sustainable, human sensory neuron culture model for use in therapeutic pain research

Chronic pain is a common problem affecting approximately 1 in 5 adults across Europe. The pain field has seen a number of high profile failures through lack of efficacy at Phase II in recent years, and development of more predictive in vitro models is key to addressing this. In Phase 1 of the DRGNET CRACK IT Challenge, Professor Andrew Hart and his multidisciplinary team demonstrated that it is possible to repeatedly isolate, culture, and transport viable, pain relevant human neurons to distant laboratories whilst still working within the legal and regulatory framework for research using human tissue.

The focus during Phase 2 will be to upscale and sustain access to sufficient donors to maintain supply of viable human dorsal root ganglion (hDRG) neurons and to improve protocol efficiency to optimise yield. The number of hospitals within the DRGNET network will be expanded to increase retrieval activity to sufficiently meet the needs of the Challenge Sponsors’ in-house electrophysiology and whole hDRG characterisation studies. If successful, it is anticipated that this will also provide excess material that could be used for other related studies, or supplied to academia. Optimising protocols for cryopreservation and thawing of hDRG material to minimise cell loss, and to characterise pre-cryopreservation versus post-thaw pain-relevant behaviour, will also be addressed during Phase 2.

Ultimately, the hDRG material will be made widely available to the pain research community through the establishment of a not-for-profit commercial entity that will cover tissue retrieval, dissociation and cell extraction (“DRGNetwork Scotland”), and transportation to end-users.

Full details about this CRACK IT Challenge can be found on the CRACK IT website.

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Crouch M et al. (2018). Brain stem death: from heart transplants to therapeutic pain research – expanding the role of donated tissues.

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