Meet Dr. Raj Khanna, Director, NYU Pain Research Center

Rajesh Khanna, PhD, an internationally known expert in pain research, has been named director of the NYU Pain Research Center, effective January 1, 2022. Prior to joining NYU, Dr. Khanna was the associate director of the University of Arizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson, and a member of the BIO5 Institute.

The aim of the new NYU Pain Research Center, located at NYU College of Dentistry, is to facilitate the development of innovative pain research initiatives, with a focus on solutions to the national opioid crisis. As director, Dr. Khanna will establish the basic science and the clinical research directives for the Center; recruit a cadre of collaborative, world-class investigators with expertise in the neurobiology of pain; recruit and train the next generation of basic and translational pain scientists; develop collaborations with corporations and pharmaceutical companies; and identify federal and philanthropic sources of funding to conduct and promote research on alternatives to opioids for chronic pain treatment.

Dr. Khanna’s scientific investigations have generated new insight into the biologic mechanisms of pain, accelerated the pace of discovery in pain research, and laid the groundwork for the development of a new category of non-opioid pain reliever. “Drug discovery is mired with challenges” says Dr. Khanna. “Our team looked at a fundamental mechanism of pain, came up with a way to differentiate it from those before us, and found a compound that has potential as a new non-opioid treatment for pain,” he added. That compound, which they designed and dubbed 194, successfully and safely altered NaV1.7 — a sodium ion channel that has been long linked to the sensation of pain through genetic studies of people with rare pain disorders.

Dr. Khanna and his team observed a synergistic effect when 194 was combined with morphine and gabapentin. This is a promising sign that 194 could be used in a dose-reduction strategy for painkillers that have negative side effects, including opioids, while maintaining high levels of pain relief.

Dr. Khanna’s research is supported by over $8M in NIH, foundation, and private venture funding. In addition to his scientific contributions, he has been awarded five patents for the treatment of pain. He also cofounded the company, Regulonix, LLC, and is the chief scientific officer of this early-stage biotechnology company.

In addition to his appointment as director, Dr. Khanna has been appointed a professor in the Department of Molecular Pathobiology.  

Dr. Khanna earned a PhD in physiology from the University of Toronto. He went on to complete a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Physiology and Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience at the University of California Los Angeles. In addition to the University of Arizona, he has held faculty positions at the Toronto Western Research Institute, Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis, and he is the author of more than 175 peer reviewed publications.

“Rajesh Khanna is an entrepreneur and a visionary,” said Dean Bertolami. “With his extraordinary strengths as a scientist, leader, and mentor and his capacity to partner with industry, he will forge an exciting future for the NYU Pain Research Center.”


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