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The Facial Pain Research Foundation (FPRF)

Announces New Research Project

At Duke University



As a scientist, Wolfgang B. Liedtke, MD, PhD, professor and faculty of the Center for Translational Neuroscience at Duke University School of Medicine, understands pain at the molecular level. As a physician, he understands it on the human level. He is a Professor of Neurology with appointments in Anesthesiology and Neurobiology at Duke University in Durham, NC. He is a prolific clinician in head-face pain in the Duke Neurology Clinics, as well as a molecular neuroscientist and physiologist managing his own federally-supported basic science laboratory. In October 2000 he first described the TRPV4 ion channel which has emerged as a significant player in pain, also craniofacial pain. He was selected for 2 prestigious awards, drawing from a national pool of strong applicants, a Klingenstein Fellowship in Neurosciences of the Klingenstein Fund upon arrival at Duke in 2004, and a Harrington Discovery Institute Award as Scholar-Inventor in 2012 for his anslational-medical accomplishments and future promise. He has authored more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, many of them relating to pain, inflammation and tissue injury. 

“I was caught up by the suffering of people with this condition,” Dr. Liedtke says. “I felt an enormous calling to make progress on their behalf.” Inspired by his patients to this day, he seeks to expand the understanding of chronic pain mechanisms at the molecular level. The ultimate goal, he explains, is to translate understanding to clinical application. 

In the summer of 2015 Dr. Liedtke traveled to Gainesville Florida and spent two days discussing his ideas for curing trigeminal neuralgia with Dr. Douglas Anderson, Director of Research for the FPRF, Dr. Michael Pasternak, FPRF Founding Trustee. As a result the Trustees of the FPRF are pleased to announce the funding of a grant to Dr. Liedtke and Duke University Center for Translational Neuroscience as one of the Foundation’s projects to find cures for trigeminal neuralgia and related neuropathic pain.  The following is Dr. Liedtke’s brief descriptor of his FPRF research project: 


“Not SciFi: how to get rid of trigeminal neuralgia” 

by Wolfgang Liedtke, MD, PhD

 In this line of work Dr Liedtke and his group at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, will explore how material science and material science combined with cellular engineering can be used to make transmission of neural signals in the trigeminal system normal again. 

This FPRF funding will support fabrication of prototype neuro-modulatory devices that will target inhibitory neural impulses and strengthen them, for direct anatomic targeting of components of the trigeminal system such as trigeminal nerve branches and the nerve root that connects the trigeminal ganglion with the brainstem. This work is based on previous pioneering work of Liedtke who used a specifically-fabricated type of carbon nanomaterial to facilitate inhibitory neurotransmission. He applied few-walled carbon nanotubes of extraordinary purity to explants and single cells of the brain’s cortex, and demonstrated their facilitated inhibition as a direct consequence of the carbon fibers directly interfacing with the nerve fibers. Carbon nanomaterials such as few-walled carbon nanotubes can be loaded with anti nerve pain drugs to act as a specific topical delivery vehicle.


In a related approach, Liedtke’s group will fabricate another type of device that hold human fibroblast-like cells so that the cells can function as anti-pain generator cells. This approach is aiming at the future possibility to use fibroblast like cells which can readily be generated from the skin of patients, then to reprogram them to make anti-pain molecules, or to act like sponges for pro-pain molecules that an injured trigeminal system might over-produce. The devices will hold the cells which cannot escape, but the material is sufficiently leaky to allow permeation of the biologically-active molecules. These cell-containing devices, made of biocompatible polymers with pro-nerve regenerative material properties, will be applied to the trigeminal system in order to dial down pro-pain signaling.


This is a daring approach not without risk, but Liedtke indicates that support from the FPRF will provide the critical momentum to move these technologies forward toward translational-medical reality. He believes that the time to do this successfully is now.

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