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Mei-Chuan Ko, PhD

Mei-Chuan Ko, PhD

Mei-Chuan Ko, PhD, develops nonhuman primate models to study pain and itch sensations. He evaluates the efficacy and side effect profiles of drugs and conducts pharmacological studies in translational nonhuman primate models in order to advance human medicine.


Mei-Chuan Ko, PhD, pain and itch research expert

Mei-Chuan “Holden” Ko, PhD, behavioral neuropharmacologist, is a professor in the department of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest School of Medicine. He develops nonhuman primate models to study pain and itch sensations and to evaluate the efficacy and side effect profiles of therapeutics, particularly analgesics and antipruritics.

Ko earned a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in biopsychology from the University of Michigan, where he also completed a postdoctoral research fellowship in anesthesiology and pharmacology. He worked as research faculty in the department of pharmacology at the University of Michigan until he moved his research group to Wake Forest in 2013.

Mei-Chuan Ko’s research interests span a wide range, from behavioral effects of opioids to physiological functions of different neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. He specializes in animal models and develops nonhuman primate models to study the functions of different ligand-receptor systems in the central nervous system.

Ko develops nonhuman primates models, such as capsaicin- and carrageenan-induced allodynia and hyperalgesia, that allow investigators to evaluate and distinguish the analgesic efficacy of various therapeutics before they enter clinical trials. He uses these models not only to determine drug efficacy, but also to characterize side effect profiles, including gastrointestinal transition, abuse liability, cardiovascular activities and respiratory depression. In his research, he works as a principle investigator with the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense, as well as numerous industry partners.

Ko researches nociceptin/orphanin FQ peptide (NOP) and kappa opioid peptide (KOP) receptor agonists in nonhuman primate models to determine the therapeutic potential of NOP-related ligands as analgesics and to validate the clinical application of KOP agonists as general antipruritics. His research team, in partnership with Wake Forest Innovations, has established an intrathecal catheterization to deliver drugs intrathecally or intracisternally in awake, behaving monkeys. With this surgical improvement, he can not only can define the role of different neuropeptides in regulating pain and itch centrally, but can also study how different neuropeptides in the CNS affect diverse behavioral responses and physiological functions in nonhuman primates.

Ko conducts pharmacological studies with nonhuman primate models because of the translational bridge to human medicine. He recognizes the translational value of nonhuman primate models and moved his research group to Wake Forest to collaborate with the world-renowned faculty in the departments of physiology & pharmacology and anesthesiology and Wake Forest’s internationally recognized Center for Comparative Medicine Research. His research in animal models provides a pharmacological foundation for better and safer therapeutics that can improve patient care and outcomes.

Mei-Chuan Ko, PhD, is a behavioral neuropharmacologist with over 20 years of experience in:

  • Neuropsychopharmacology
  • Opioids and abuse and dependence associated with other drugs
  • Central nervous system therapeutics
  • Neural mechanisms of sensory processing
  • Analgesics and antipruritics
  • Nonhuman primate model development