HEAL Headliners: Can Automation and Machine Learning Help Find New Treatments for Pain and Opioid Use Disorder Faster?

Fri, 10/6/2023 - 2:00pm - 3:00pm

Watch the webinar recording.


There is an urgent need for additional safe and effective treatment options for people who live with pain, opioid use disorder, or both. Yet the process of identifying molecules or processes that can serve as new treatment targets often takes a long time. In this webinar, two HEAL-funded researchers described how they are using innovative approaches involving automation and machine learning to get results faster.

Topics Covered

KCa2 Channel Activators for Opioid Use Disorder (Presenter: Heike Wulff, Ph.D., M.S., Pharm.) 

Additional options are urgently needed to prevent and treat substance use disorders  involving opioids or other drug combinations. One promising molecular target  is the calcium-activated potassium channel KCa2.2. This protein helps control the electrical activity of many different types of neurons, including those involved in opioid dependence and withdrawal. Dr. Heike Wulff will describe how she is using computer-based, highly efficient screening approaches and novel machine learning strategies to uncover new molecules that affect the function of the KCa2.2 channel. Those molecules may point to new treatments for substance use disorders involving opioids and other drugs.

Using Mouse Pain Scales to Discover Unusual Pain Sensitivity and New Pain Targets (Presenter: Ishmail Abdus-Saboor Ph.D.)  

People differ widely in how they experience acute and chronic pain, in part due to genetic differences among humans. Similar variation in pain sensitivity occurs in animals with diverse genetic backgrounds, but researchers can’t easily determine how different animals experience pain. Dr. Ishmail Abdus-Saboor will describe his work developing automated mouse “pain scales” using high-speed videography, machine learning, and custom software that can be combined to measure an animal’s pain experience. This technology will help identify mice with high or low pain sensitivity, toward developing new therapeutic strategies for treating human pain.


Heike Wulff, Ph.D., M.S. Pharm., University of California, Davis

Dr. Heike Wulff is a Professor of Pharmacology at the University of California, Davis. She is considered an expert on potassium channels. Her laboratory focuses on the design of molecules to alter the function of potassium channels, to identify new research tools as well as potential drugs. Her laboratory is particularly interested in those potassium channels that function within cells in the immune, cardiovascular, and nervous systems.

Ishmail Abdus-Saboor, Ph.D., Columbia University

Dr. Ishmail Abdus-Saboor is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Freeman Hrabowski Scholar and Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Columbia University. His research assesses how the brain differentially encodes responses to the sensation of touch. His work aims to further explain the perceptions of both pain and pleasure, as well as how each is altered in disease states or in different social contexts.


D.P. Mohapatra, Ph.D., National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) 

Dr. D.P. Mohapatra serves as a Program Director for Pain at the NINDS Division of Neuroscience. He oversees a portfolio that includes multiple forms of pain, including peripheral and central mechanisms, behavioral assessment of pain and itch, and reverse-translational and translational research on pain and pain management. He also leads several programs in the NIH HEAL Initiative. 

For More Information, Contact:

Carol Gianessi, Ph.D., at [email protected]


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