Joshua Little, DC, PhD
National University graduate (’05) Joshua Little, DC, PhD, is an assistant professor at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine where he is researching the underlying mechanisms of chronic pain. His most recent research, conducted with an international team of scientists led by Daniela Salvemini, PhD, is being heralded as “discovering the ‘off-switch’ for chronic pain” by science and news media around the world.
The team found that turning on a specific receptor in the brain and spinal cord selectively counteracts chronic pain. Specifically, activating the A3 adenosine receptor in nociceptive processing and modulating sites of the central nervous system induces potent relief of persistent neuropathic pain in male and female rodents. These findings could help develop better pain management approaches designed to trigger this receptor. Such an approach may be a boon to those suffering from chronic pain and could replace other pain medications that pose negative side effects.
“My father suffered from chronic pain. He tried many treatment options, but never found consistent pain relief,” says Dr. Little. “At an early age, I had first hand knowledge of how chronic pain can negatively impact one’s quality of life. Because of my experience, I wanted to better understand how chronic pain occurs in the hope of finding ways to provide more meaningful pain relief.”
A Doctor of Chiropractic degree was an integral part of Dr. Little’s career goals in research. “I was very interested in neuromusculoskeletal conditions and the use of manual medicine and rehabilitation to treat those conditions. I was equally interested in academia and research. I chose to earn both professional and basic science degrees to provide me with the training necessary to pursue these interests.”
While at NUHS, Dr. Little served as a research fellow under the dean of research, Dr. Gregory Cramer. “NUHS developed my appreciation and desire to perform research, providing me with a wide spectrum of learning opportunities. I gained an understanding of hypothesis driven research, animal care, experimental design, data collection, scientific writing and grant preparation. Dr. Cramer, as well as the faculty and staff of the NUHS Research Department, made a critical investment in my research career.”
Today, Dr. Little is still collaborating with Dr. Cramer. They are continuing multiple lines of spinal research that examine imaging, degeneration, pain, and mechanisms of therapeutic approaches such as spinal manipulation. Their research on assessing the severity of spinal degeneration with radiographs was recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics.
After earning his DC at NUHS, Dr. Little went on to complete his PhD in anatomy at Saint Louis University where his research focused on the role of reactive nitroxidative species in the neurobiology of pain. He continued his training in pain research at Saint Louis University in the department of pharmacological and physiological sciences as a postdoctoral fellow focusing on pain research. He has published articles relating to pain in several prominent scientific journals, including Brain, The Journal of Neuroscience; Brain, Behavior and Immunity; Free Radical Biology and Medicine; Journal of Biological Chemistry; Pain; Amino Acids; and the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics.
Dr. Gregory Cramer of NUHS says, “Dr. Little was an outstanding research fellow when he attended our university, and his work helped to produce several papers and abstracts. We are incredibly proud of his current research. Brain is a very prestigious journal and to be first author on a paper with such an important impact at this early stage in Dr. Little’s career is magnificent.”
Dr. Little hopes that his work will help advance the current understanding of the causes of chronic pain and eventually optimize patient care to improve pain relief and the quality of life for chronic pain sufferers. “I am particularly interested in investigating the neurobiological mechanisms that contribute to musculoskeletal pain, especially low back pain, which is a major cause of global disability,” he says. “This will be one important line of research in my lab going forward. Although studying low back pain is inherently difficult, the findings could have tremendous impact on society.”
“I remember Dr. Little and it’s no surprise that he is excelling in his field,” says NUHS President Dr. Joseph Stiefel. “Both his current and future work will undoubtedly contribute to better patient care through improved pain management.”