Stevenson Lab students present at national pain conference

Lily Bennett, ’25 (left), and Hannah LaCourse, ‘23 (right) at the 2023 USASP meeting at Duke University in front of their poster.
Lily Bennett ’25 and Hannah LaCourse ‘23 at the 2023 USASP meeting at Duke University.

Two students in the psychopharmacology laboratory of Glenn W. Stevenson, Ph.D., professor of psychology in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, recently presented their research at the annual meeting of the United States Association for the Study of Pain (USASP).

First author Hannah LaCourse (Medical Biology, ’23), and Lily Bennett (Pre-Pharmacy, ’25) presented a poster at the USASP national meeting at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, on April 12. Both students are current, full-time research assistants in the Stevenson Lab and were among a very small group of undergraduate presenters at the meeting; the vast majority of posters were hosted by graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, or faculty.

The students presented data on the interactions between D1 dopamine and mu opioid receptors on therapeutic (pain relief) and side effect (sedation/drug addiction) behavioral endpoints in rats using sophisticated operant conditioning and classical conditioning protocols.

Results indicated that mixtures of the dopamine D1 drug SKF82958 + the mu receptor drug methadone produced synergistic pain-relieving effects and antagonistic side effects, showing an approximately eightfold increase in safety profile relative to either drug alone. Additionally, the mixture with the safest profile did not produce any drug reward — a rodent model of human addiction liability.

“My students have done exemplary work in the lab, which has resulted in exciting data leading to a federal grant application, a manuscript with student co-authors that includes Hannah as first author, and this most recent conference presentation,” Stevenson remarked. “Essentially, my students have discovered that D1 receptor-selective drugs may be useful as standalone pain relievers and/or opioid-sparing pain relievers.”

Additional Stevenson Lab undergraduate student co-authors on the poster included April Falstad (Medical Biology, ’25); Francesca Asmus (Neuroscience, ’22); Meghan Smith (Psychology, ’23); Ravin Davis, B.S. ’21, (D.O., ’25); and Kylee Harrington, B.S. ’21 (Neuroscience).

Other authors and collaborators include Jack Bergman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychobiology at Harvard Medical School – McLean Hospital; Denise Giuvelis, B.S., manager of the Behavioral Core within UNE’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) for the Study of Pain and Sensory Function; and Tamara King, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences within the College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Funding for experiments and travel was provided by a UNE College of Arts and Sciences mini-grant and COBRE pilot award to Stevenson and a Kahn Foundation Student Research Fellowship award to LaCourse.

Glenn Stevenson, Ph.D