2017 Frederick W.L. Kerr Basic Science Research Award

Robert W. Gereau receives the Frederick W. L. Kerr award from the American Pain Society.

Dr. Gereau is the Dr. Seymour and Rose T. Brown Professor of Anesthesiology, and serves as Director of the Washington University Pain Center. He earned a Bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University, and a PhD in Neuroscience from Emory University (1995). Following postdoctoral training at the Salk Institute (1998), he took a faculty position in Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine, serving as Assistant and Associate Professor until 2004, when he was recruited to Washington University School of Medicine. … 

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Scientific American interviews Gereau on the future implementation of optogenetics in clinical trials for pain relief

A technique called optogenetics has transformed neuroscience during the past 10 years by allowing researchers to turn specific neurons on and off in experimental animals. By flipping these neural switches, it has provided clues about which brain pathways are involved in diseases like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. “Optogenetics is not just a flash in the pan,” says neuroscientist Robert Gereau of Washington University in Saint Louis. “It allows us to do experiments that were not doable before. This is a true game changer like few other techniques in science.” …

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Nature news article interviews with Dr. Gereau describing future clincial trials using optogenetics for pain relief.

Every time something poked its foot, the mouse jumped in pain. Researchers at Circuit Therapeutics, a start-up company in Menlo Park, California, had made the animal hypersensitive to touch by tying off a nerve in its leg. But when they shone a yellow light on its foot while poking it, the mouse did not react.

The treatment is one of several nearing clinical use that draw on optogenetics — a technique in which light is used to control genes and neuron firing. In March, RetroSense Therapeutics of Ann Arbor, Michigan, began the first clinical-safety trial of an optogenetic therapy to treat the vision disorder retinitis pigmentosa…

Using Light to Study and Treat Pain: A Chat With Robert Gereau

Relief - an interview with Dr. Gereau on using optogenetics to study and treat pain.

Robert Gereau, PhD, is Director of the Washington University Pain Center and the Dr. Seymour and Rose T. Brown Professor of Anesthesiology at Washington University in Saint Louis, Missouri. Gereau, a leader in the field of pain research, was among the first researchers to use a revolutionary new technology called optogenetics to investigate pain. He recently pioneered new devices that will open the door for many more researchers to use optogenetics to study pain in rodents and to explore its potential to treat pain in people. Freelance journalist Stephani Sutherland recently spoke with Gereau about why optogenetics is so groundbreaking, the challenges it presents, and its potential as a pain therapy. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation….

ERK2 Alone Drives Inflammatory Pain But Cooperates with ERK1 in Sensory Neuron Survival

Pain Research Forum story on O'Brien et al study on the role of ERK2 in pain and nociceptor development.

While ERK is a well-known contributor to pain sensitization, isoform and cellular specificity of ERK signaling is still not well understood in this (or many other) context(s). The Gereau lab makes a big step forward in this week’s Journal of Neuroscience. To address this question, they use an Nav1.8-driven CRE line to eliminate ERK2 in most nociceptors. They find a strong decrease in mechanical hypersensitivity induced by CFA (but not heat hyperalgesia), decreased formalin-evoked phase II behaviors and a decrease in heat hyperalgesia evoked by NGF (with no change in mechanical hypersensitivity, interestingly). They also find a small loss of epidermal innervation in the peptidergic subclass in ERK2 nociceptor-specific knockouts. Hence, ERK2, which was previously shown to play a key role in pain sensitization using a global knockout strategy for ERK1 (Alter et al., 2010) may contribute to pain hypersensitivity largely through signaling events in DRG nociceptors…

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Opto-Mu Opioid Receptor collaboration with Bruchas Lab Highlighted in The Record.

Despite the abuse potential of opioid drugs, they have long been the best option for patients suffering from severe pain. The drugs interact with receptors on brain cells to tamp down the body’s pain response. But now, neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found a way to activate opioid receptors with light.

In a test tube, the scientists melded the light-sensing protein rhodopsin to key parts of opioid receptors to activate receptor pathways using light. They also influenced the behavior of mice by injecting the receptors into the brain, using light instead of drugs to stimulate a reward response…

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Human Nociceptor research featured on the Pain Research Forum

In the wake of failed clinical trials based on animal models, the pain field is facing what seems to be an inescapable conclusion: the success of new pain drugs in the clinic will likely require studies of human cells and tissues. But human neurons are not easy to come by. Recent work culminated in an invaluable resource: human sensory neuron-like cells reprogrammed from fibroblasts (see PRF related news story). Now, a handful of academic researchers have made the move to acquire and study native human sensory neurons by tapping into organ-donor networks to access prized dorsal root ganglion (DRG) tissue. Their work promises to help validate—or invalidate—important pain mechanisms discovered in animal models….

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Jordan McCall Invited to Meeting of Nobel Laureates

Not many young scientists get a chance to hobnob with Nobel laureates.

So Jordan McCall was elated last year to learn that he had been chosen to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting — an annual gathering of Nobel laureates and young students and researchers. McCall, who will defend his dissertation for a PhD in neuroscience this spring, was one of 19 Americans selected to attend the meeting, which is held in the picturesque island city of Lindau, Germany.

One of the highlights of Jordan McCall’s time at the conference in Lindau, Germany, was meeting neuroscientist Torsten N. Wiesel, MD, who in 1981 received the Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine along with Roger W. Sperry, ScD, and David H. Hubel, MD. Half of the prize was awarded jointly to Hubel and Wiesel for their discoveries concerning information processing in the visual system….

Gereau, Bruchas receive DECODE grant

Gereau and Bruchas win DECODE grant Award.

Michael R. Bruchas, PhD, assistant professor of anesthesiology and of neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and Robert W. Gereau IV, PhD, the Dr. Seymour and Rose T. Brown Professor of Anesthesiology at the university, have received one of only 11 DECODE (Deciphering Circuit Basis of Disease) grants to be awarded. The $2 million in grants are part of a 10-year project to map the human brain, an initiative known as Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN)…