UHSP Researchers Publish Kratom Research in ACS Chemical Neuroscience

Published on 04 September 2021

Soumen Chakraborty, postdoctoral research associate in the Majumdar labs in the Center for Clinical Pharmacology, was the lead author of a paper recently published in ACS Chemical Neuroscience, which highlighted his research team’s efforts to isolate new, less prevalent alkaloids from the plant kratom.

Kratom contains numerous natural alkaloids, which can be leveraged to create pain management therapeutics that are less addictive and as effective as opioids. To date, researchers have uncovered 54 alkaloids that are present in kratom, all with therapeutic potential.

“Of the 54 alkaloids that are present in kratom, there are four or five alkaloids which are present in a measurable amount,” Chakraborty explained. “Researchers in our lab have done work to characterize those measureable compounds, but my team’s efforts were focused on isolating minor alkaloids that are much less prevalent and studying their properties because those have never been explored.”

Chakraborty’s team featured the work of University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis graduates Rahul Jilakara, B.S. '20, and Nitin Nuthikattu, B.S. '18, Pharm.D. '21, who assisted with extracting the minor alkaloid compounds from one-pound bags of kratom.

The research team analyzed the pain relief and side effect profiles of the extracted compounds and discovered that the compounds appeared to be safer than classic opioids because they didn’t cause traditional opioid side effects such as respiratory depression.

“This discovery is important because, while these alkaloids may be less prevalent in kratom than other more measureable alkaloids, we can utilize these structures to identify some new compounds that can lead to the creation of safer analgesics,” Chakraborty noted.

For Chakraborty, the project was an opportunity to train, mentor and work with UHSP students, and foster their interests in research. For recent graduates Jilakara and Nuthikattu, this project represented their first opportunity to be published in a scientific journal.

“Nitin and I worked on this project for a couple of years before we got this publication,” Jilakara said. “As we embark on our careers, being published is important because it shows other researchers that we’ve gone through the process and we know what it takes to get published. And for those like me who are in medical school, where much emphasis is being placed on extracurricular activities like research, already having a paper published will help me get my hands on additional research projects down the line so I can continue to build my resume.”

Nuthikattu notes that his work on the project was an opportunity to explore the practical applications of his pharmacy education and make connections with established researchers.

“Through my work on this project, and within the Center for Clinical Pharmacology, I got to see what the process was for drug development, and the researchers I worked with helped open my mind to the different career directions I could take with a pharmacy degree,” Nuthikattu explained. “The reason you do research isn’t because you have a certain career path set already, it’s because you want to broaden your horizons and see what’s out there. I was grateful to work on this project and gain important research experience with this team of incredible researchers.”

View the full text of Chakraborty’s paper.

Established in August 2015, the Center for Clinical Pharmacology is a partnership between University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis and the Department of Anesthesiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The center continues to diversify with faculty investigators currently engaged a variety of diverse research areas. Click here to learn more.

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