UNM Rainforest Innovations

Associate Professor, Department of Neurosciences

Health Sciences

The University of New Mexico

Dr. Milligan has disclosed four inventions, received two UNM-affiliated issued U.S. patents, and has three pending U.S. patent applications for her neuropathic pain technologies.

Existing pain treatments primarily target neurons and reduce pain by only ~25-40% in less than half of the 15 million patients suffering from chronic neuropathic pain in the U.S., underscoring the need for developing new methods to identify and investigate cellular processes beyond only neuronal function. Opioid analgesics, which target neurons, are the most widely used drugs despite addiction liabilities associated with opioid treatment. Dr. Milligan’s research focuses on immune-like glial cells that may underlie chronic pathological pain due to aberrant neuroimmune interactions. When agitated, glial cells locally release chemical messages that communicate to other glia and spinal pain neurons leading to the eventual development of chronic pathological pain.

Researchers are increasingly interested in investigating the matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) enzyme and its biosensing activity as a spinal biomarker. MMPs contribute to neuro-inflammation and possible nerve damage in patients with neurological diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis (MS), as well as other diseases that lead to similar symptoms, such as HIV and Lyme disease, and neurotrauma. Determining MMP levels in the cerebrospinal fluid of these patients could lead to early and better diagnosis and clinical treatment, since treatment is generally more effective during early onset and detection.

Dr. Milligan and her co-inventors have developed biosensor technology for possible application to detect pain-related molecules. This biosensor technology is an optical, fiber-based biosensor, modified with quantum dots, that screens for and characterizes matrix MMP enzyme activity at pain signaling sites in the cerebral spinal fluid. The technology identifies levels of physiological pain and specifically identifies which neurological disease (e.g. ALS and MS) is present. The technology is also suitable for other complex central nervous system conditions and the development of sensitive bioassays and diagnostics.

Dr. Milligan is also investigating the lifelong effects that prenatal alcohol exposure exerts on spinal glial- and immune-cell function with collaborators at the New Mexico Alcohol Research Center at UNM. 


9,155,497 Compact Biosensor of Matrix Metalloproteinase with Cadmium Free Quantum Dots, issued October 13, 2015

9,655,553 Compact Biosensor of Matrix Metalloproteinase with Cadmium Free Quantum Dots, issued May 23, 2017


Protocells and Their Use for Pain Treatment

Compact Biosensor of Matrix Metalloproteinase with Cadmium Free Quantum Dots

Control of Chronic Neuropathic Pain and Allodynia

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