Research Themes

Cancer | Cancer-neural Interactions | Pain 

The Albertson Lab investigates the reciprocal interactions between oral cancers and the sensory nervous system. They seek to understand why patients with metastatic oral cancers report higher levels of pain. They also study the experience of human oral cancer patients with pain, and apply high throughput genomics, genetics, cell biology and spatial analysis of gene expression technologies to answer this question. Their research has potential to discover cancer biomarkers and lead to therapeutic approaches to treat oral cancer and alleviate pain.


Cell Signaling | Inflammation | Pain | Cancer

Cell signaling is a fundamentally important process whereby cells sense and respond to cues or stimuli from the external environment.

Multiple groups in the Pain Research Center investigate multiple aspects of cell signaling. PIs are investigating the structure, function and regulation of G protein-coupled receptors and receptor tyrosine kinases and are analyzing intracellular signaling pathways in subcellular compartments. We use a wide range of approaches and cutting-edge methodologies to elucidate how these signaling events regulate physiological and pathophysiological processes with translational focuses on inflammation, general pain mechanisms, abdominal pain and visceral hypersensitivity, oral pain, itch and Cancer.

Bunnett LabJensen LabSchmidt Lab  |  Khanna Lab  |  Margolis Lab


Developing Small Molecule Therapeutics for Neurodegenerative Diseases

Research in the laboratory of Dr. May Khanna focuses on targeting RNA-protein and protein-protein interactions using small molecules, aptamers and oligonucleotides for drug discovery. Their approach is unique as it implements a pipeline from structure-based in silico targeting, to in vitro biophysical characterization followed by in cell and in vivo validation. In addition to targeting protein interfaces, they are now introducing multi-level targeting: Direct targeting of RNA by small molecules using small molecules and ASOs (at the onset of protein production), targeting interface at the site of function of the protein (hits the function of the protein) and at the interface of protein-protein interactions (could allosterically control function). In this way, they are positioned to develop activators, splice modulators and probes that go beyond just targeting function. Each of these approaches offer a unique way to modulate function, expression and interactions in very distinct ways where the outcome would normally be difficult to predict.


G-protein Coupled Receptor Signaling in Itch

The Jensen Lab investigates the signaling mechanisms of G protein-coupled receptors in itch, pain, and inflammation. G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) are dynamic transmembrane receptors that are involved in most physiological processes. Recent advances in understanding of GPCR signaling have highlighted the ability of GPCRs to signal from endosomes, small membrane bound organelles within cells, once thought to only transport and recycle GPCRs. The ability of GPCRs to signal from endosomes provides greater insight into the relationship between GPCR signaling and disease. GPCR signaling in endosomes is an important factor in the development of chronic pain and itch. The Jensen lab seeks to better understand the mechanisms regulating endosomal GPCR signaling and to develop new therapies to treat pain and itch by targeting endosomal GPCRs.


Gut-Brain Axis Disease | Inflammation | Pain 

The Margolis Laboratory studies the roles of gut serotonergic signaling in mood disorders and disorders of gut-brain interaction as well as the role of GI issues in neurodevelopmental disorders. This research has provided important insights into how abnormalities in the gut can arise in children with brain-gut axis disorders such as autism, inflammatory bowel diseases, antenatal antidepressant exposure, and disorders of gut-brain interaction. The Margolis lab utilizes a combination of approaches involving behavioral studies, gut morphology and electrophysiology studies as well as state of the methods to non-invasively evaluate pain and neuronal-epithelial signaling, including optogenetics.


Tumor-nerve Interaction | Cancer Neuroscience | Cancer Pain | Oral Cancer

How do peripheral nerves interact with the tumor microenvironment to facilitate tumor progression and pain? 

We use patient samples and questionnaires, in vitro and in vivo modeling, behavioral pharmacology, live cell imaging, electrophysiology and a viery of other techniques to address our overarching research question. The ultimate goal is to develop mechanism-based therapies to combat oral cancer and its associated comorbidities such as pain.