Eva Varga

Research Interests

Eva Varga, PhD, recognizes that prolonged opioid or cannabinoid analgesic treatment leads to a gradual decline in pain relief and thus, clinicians need to use steadily increasing drug doses in the management of severe chronic pain. Higher analgesic doses on the other hand, are more likely to lead to serious side effects and drug addiction. The overall goal of her research is to develop longer acting antinociceptive agents that produce fewer side effects during long-term treatment of chronic pain. To accomplish this goal, Dr. Varga and her team use molecular and cellular approaches to determine how opioids (such as morphine) and cannabinoids (such as the active components of marijuana) interact with their membrane receptors. Also, they look to see how opioids and cannabinoids activate cellular signal transduction and to identify the molecular mechanisms leading to altered cellular signaling upon long-term opioid and cannabinoid treatment. Interestingly, while acute administration of opioids (or cannabinoids acting at the neuronal (CB1) cannabinoid receptor type) efficiently relieves pain, sustained exposure to these drugs causes a paradoxical increase in the sensitivity of patients to painful (hyperalgesia) and even to normally painless (allodynia) stimuli. She hypothesizes that this increased pain sensitivity greatly contributes to the necessity for increased analgesic drug doses in the treatment of chronic pain. Research projects focus on the cellular events that lead to regulation of pain signal transduction in the spinal cord upon sustained opioid and cannabinoid treatment.