Q&A with Hayley McMillan, chronic pain researcher
Published on September 23, 2019
PhD student Hayley is part of the research team at Queen’s University Belfast looking at chronic pain using a model made from dental pulp.
Could you tell us what you’re working on?
I am working with nerve-like cells derived from extracted and donated human teeth to better understand novel pain receptors.
Why is your pain research so important?
Chronic pain is a major healthcare problem. Most of the drugs on the market to treat chronic pain are associated with many unwanted side effects. The main reason for this is because their targets are expressed both inside and outside the pain pathways.
The pain receptor (Mas related gene receptor –X1, MRGX1), I am researching is different because it is solely expressed in sensory nerves and therefore could lead to limited or no side effects.
Your research is completely animal free. Why is this crucial?
Not only is MRGX1 solely expressed in sensory nerves, its expression is also specific to humans. This means that animals do not possess the receptor and therefore do not represent the human pain situation accurately. For example, selective ligands (substances that binds to other molecules) for MRGX1 have been shown to produce hypersensitivity to pain in a study with humans, whereas MRGC receptors in mice (which have the closest shared ancestry to human MRGX1) actually inhibit pain. This is a clear example of how animals experience pain differently to humans. I think we should be using human models to study human disease.
Has anything shocked or surprised you so far?
Yes, the statistics on the amount of animals used in research really shocked me.
What motivates you?
The idea that my work could contribute to improving the quality of life of people living with chronic pain.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like going to the gym in my spare time or going to the cinema.
The final word
I would like to say a massive thank you to supporters of Animal Free Research UK. My work would not be possible without your help.