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Pain Management: A Safer Alternative to Opioids

Molly Shoichet is a chemist, engineer, professor and one of Canada’s most decorated scientists who is revolutionizing Regenerative Medicine, Tissue Engineering and Drug Delivery.

 

Professor Shoichet completed her B.Sc. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in chemistry in 1987, her Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 1992 and today she works with the University of Toronto at her lab, The Shoichet Lab, and as a professor. Professor Shoichet has won several awards some of them being the Order of Canada, Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada (2020), and the North American Laureate for L’Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science (2016), to name a few. Professor Shoichet is an inspiration to young women in STEM and an entrepreneur in science and medicine. Professor Shoichet has invested in three startup companies, one of them being AmacaThera Inc. who she and co-founder and CEO Michael Cooke have raised over $10 million to fund an injectable gel project for pain management post-surgery.  

 

In her lab, Professor Shoichet works with a team of scientists to revolutionize medicine by combining aspects of engineering, chemistry and biology to alter drug delivery to patients. “I like to think of us as the FedEx of cells and drug delivery. FedEx provides the packaging and figures out how to get what’s inside where and when it needs to be there” she said in an interview with the Globe and Mail.

 

AmacaThera combines hyaluronic acid, a common skincare ingredient, and methyl cellulose to create a gel when heated. When these ingredients are combined and at the proper temperature, this hydrogel can regulate the speed at which other drugs in the body are released. Postoperative pain relief is the first area AmacaThera’s gel like substance is aimed at targeting. Bupivacaine is a local anesthetic used by doctors in surgery to numb an area of your body. Following surgery, doctors often prescribe pain medications containing opioids. However, the hydrogel can hold and release the anesthetic over a three-day period following surgery, removing the need for opioids. The economic impact of this hydrogel will be substantial, and the benefit to patients and society as a whole, even greater.

 

Between 2016 and 2018 in Canada alone, over 11,500 people suffered from opioid related deaths. It is estimated that 9.6% of Canadians who are prescribed opioids for medical reasons, tamper with the product in some way. Opioids are dangerous because they produce a feeling of euphoria when using. The greatest concern with the use of these drugs is the harm caused by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is prescribed to patients. Fentanyl is extremely dangerous when mixed with other substances and is a significant culprit in drug overdoses.

 

Professor Shoichet and Michael Cooke’s hydrogel is a revolutionary breakthrough that we are in desperate need of. The hope is, by administering the hydrogel and omitting the need of prescription pain medication, opioids will not have a chance to get into the hands of more people and put their lives at risk.

 

If you are interested in knowing more about injectable hydrogels visit “The Shoichet Lab” website I have linked below. I also recommend watching Molly Shoichet’s TED Talk (also linked below), it is truly fascinating and it inspires you to think differently about medical treatments.

 

Resources

The Shoichet Lab: 

https://shoichetlab.utoronto.ca/

Globe and Mail:

Monday, February 22, 2021 (Report on Business, B1-B2)

TED Talk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxqyO5hafdk

Mayo Clinic

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/e…

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

https://www.ccsa.ca/opioids#:~:text=Canada%20is%20in%20the%20midst,publi….

 

Laura Sweet

U Toronto '22

Laura is a third-year Bioethics student at the University of Toronto St. George. She is interested in law and hopes to one day pursue a career in this field. Laura enjoys skiing, playing the piano, reading and spending time on the East Coast.
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