Current Projects

Short descriptions of our active research projects are provided below. If you have any questions about our projects, feel free to contact us by email at youngerlab@uab.edu. You may also call our main line at 205-975-5907.

Discovering the source of chronic pain and fatigue

We have found specific chemicals in the blood that may cause chronic pain and fatigue in many women. These chemicals are part of an immune system that may not be working correctly. We have received funding from the National Institutes of Health to contiinue testing the role of these chemicals in disease. If we are successful, we may not only produce an objective test of fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, but we may also be able to develop more effective treatments for those disorders. Women participating in this study have blood draws over multiple days and record their symptoms on a handheld computer.

Daily immune monitoring in men with Gulf War Illness

After the 1991 Gulf War, many individuals in the military returned home with a range of unexplained symptoms. Most of those individuals experience chronic pain and/or fatigue. We believe that environmental exposures while in the Persian Gulf region may have sensitized the immune system, causing the symptoms of Gulf War illness. We are testing that hypothesis by measuring several inflammatory chemicals in the blood of people who suffer from the condition. Our goal is to learn more about Gulf War illness so we can develop effective and safe treatments.

Using botanical anti-inflammatories to treat Gulf War Illness

We now know that several botanical agents, such as mushrooms, nettles, and herbs, have anti-inflammatory properties that may benefit individuals with chronic pain or fatigue. Most of these products are available without a prescription, but they have never been tested in Gulf War illness. We are currently funded by the Department of Defense to test some of these supplements in individuals with Gulf War illness. If these anti-inflammatory products reduce symptoms, then we will learn more about what is wrong in people with Gulf War illness and make progress in treatments that make patients function and feel better.

Developing better methods for detecting inflammation in the brain

We believe that low-level inflammation in the brain may be the cause of many cases of pain, fatigue, problems with thinking or memory, and depression. Unfortunately, no tool is currently available that allows us to determine if someone has low-level inflammation in the brain. We are working on several solutions to that problem, using neuroimaging techniques such as diffusion tensor imaging, positron emission tomography, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy. We hope to make a safe, non-invasive and accurate test available for neuroinflammation. For these studies, we are currently recruiting people with chronic pain and fatigue, and healthy people.

Exploring the effects of opioid painkillers on the brain

While strong painkillers are important in managing pain, they may cause problems in some individuals when used for a long period of time. Some of those problems include addiction, changes in mood, and even increased sensitivity to pain. We are conducting brain scans on people who are starting or stopping opioid painkillers to determine how the drugs affect the brain and cause problems. With the information we gain, we hope to find ways to improve pain treatments and minimize their unwanted side effects.

Low-dose naltrexone and other microglia modulators for pain

Our lab has shown that low doses of naltrexone can be effective in reducing the chronic pain associated with Fibromyalgia. We believe the medication works by suppressing the activity of immune cells in the brain (microglia) that have become hypersensitized. We are now further testing this medication to see who it helps best. We are also testing other medications that may work even better than low-dose naltrexone.