Treating effects of substance abuse

“As the U.S. is facing an opioid crisis now, our novel mu opioid receptor modulators will provide a unique tool to fight against it.The VCU Innovation Gateway office has been so supportive to us, and their hard work is essential for our future success.”

Yan Zhang, Ph.D.
Department of Medicinal Chemistry

Opioid addicts face daily uphill battles, from overcoming dependency to coping with debilitating side effects of the opioid addiction or the treatment designed to bring comfort.

Yan Zhang, Ph.D., a medicinal chemistry professor at the VCU School of Pharmacy, is working with VCU School of Medicine professors Kurt Hauser, Ph.D., and Dana Selley, Ph.D., to target a patient’s opioid receptors that help combat neural HIV, opioid addiction and harsh side effects that accompany substance abuse.

One of the most common and painful side effects of long-term opioid use is constipation. According to Zhang, over-the-counter laxatives have little effect on opioid-induced constipation and typically only prolong a patient’s suffering. Chronic constipation could lead to a punctured colon, which can result in septic shock and death.

In 2015, the National Institutes of Health renewed funding of $1.9 million for Zhang and collaborators’ drug development research. Most recently, the team was awarded a $2.72 million grant by the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Zhang’s opioid receptor research has also led to potential preventives and treatment for irritable bowel syndrome and neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.