A mission to solve the opioid epidemic – Akshitha Maddula’s HSRF 2022 Introduction

Hi everyone! My name is Akshitha Maddula and I am a rising senior at Pitt. What I am working on for my HSRF fellowship is a project that builds on recent discoveries I have made in my lab during my previous time there as an undergrad. I am investigating whether the inhibition of estrogen will mediate Protein Kinase A (PKA) – dependent sex differences in latent sensitization (LS). LS is something that my PI and research mentor, Dr. Bradely Taylor, discovered previously. He found that the reason pain diminishes is due to the constitutive activation of opioid receptors because after an injury is healed but the opioid receptor is inhibited, the pain returns/reinstates. We can use this model to investigate what proteins and hormones play crucial roles in the reinstatement of pain, and this research can be further used to discover alternate pain treatments and therapies in place of opioids.

This research is incredibly important because the nation has been in the midst of an ongoing opioid epidemic. Many opioid addicts become addicted to opioids starting in the hospital room, from prescription painkillers. My goal is to one day attend medical school and be a doctor, and I firmly believe that doctors are healers. However, as long as doctors are prescribing opioid medications o their patients, they could be potentially doing more harm than good. Ceasing the use of opioids to treat chronic pain could help prevent millions of opioid-related overdoses and deaths.

The sex dependency of my experiment also touches on an important point as well. The male model is the standard for research for drugs and medical treatments alike. However, more and more research is constantly showing the endless number of differences in composition between the male and female cellular mechanisms on both a macroscopic and microscopic level. If there are different pathways mediating pain in men and women, then maybe it should be considered that men and women should not be prescribed the same drugs. It is so important to know how a drug affects males and females as distinct beings before they can be approved for medicinal use.

As I mentioned earlier, my long-term goal is to be a doctor. Physicians can still be researchers well into their career, but I think the environment in which I would perform research as a healthcare professional is more similar to the environment we have in HSRF than I ever have before. As a physician, I will need to be able to talk about my research with my colleagues, even if they have different specialties than I do. Similarly, I will need to be able to understand others’ research outside of my field. I believe that the HSRF is sharpening these professional skills of communication and comprehension in the research field, and these are skills I will carry with me throughout the rest of my professional endeavors.

And here is a picture of me! I am pursuing a major in Neuroscience, minor in Chemistry, and a certificate in the Conceptual Foundations in Medicine as well as the Honors Degree. Here on campus I am involved in a few clubs such as the South Asian Student Association, Women in Healthcare, and Phi Delta Epsilon (pre-medical fraternity). Something unique about me is that I used to be a fencer. Fencing will forever be my favorite sport. It is so distinctly unique from other sports, since every move that your body makes feels like moving a piece on a chess board. I have not had the opportunity to pursue this passion much in college but I hope to do so soon!

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