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Chronic Pain

NIH Research on Treating Pain

Among the many research projects related to chronic pain that are under way and funded by NIH Institutes are the following:

  • The NIH Pain Consortium is holding its 6th Symposium on Advances in Pain Research on April 14, 2011, at Natcher Auditorium on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md. The event is free and open to the public.
  • The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has funded the first human trial of gene therapy for pain. Researchers delivered a gene for enkephalin, a pain-easing chemical that is naturally produced in the body, to a precise site in the pain-processing pathway.
  • An NIH clinical trial is currently testing resiniferatoxin, a plant toxin, which specifically targets pain-transmitting nerves to treat severe pain in advanced cancer patients.
  • NIH-funded research finds that small molecules derived from the omega-3 fatty acids in fish can be used as a possible alternative treatment for inflammatory pain when other drugs prove inadequate.
  • People with fibromyalgia may benefit from practicing tai chi, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.  The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine helped fund the study.
  • Scientists at the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR) are analyzing genetic variations among individuals to understand responses to pain-reducing medications. They hope to develop diagnostic tools that use “biomarkers” that will allow researchers and clinicians to rapidly assess an individual’s pain response.
  • Pain can be hard to assess in infants and children. NINR-supported scientists are carrying out a number of studies that examine the effects of pain and pain management in children of all ages—from preterm infants to children and adolescents after surgery, with sickle cell disease, or with other special medical needs.
  • NINR-supported research has shown that successful self-management programs can reduce many barriers to effective pain management, whether cancer- or arthritis-related pain, back pain, or other chronic pain conditions.
Dr. Story Landis

Dr. Story Landis
Photo: NINDS

“Scientists are exploring the mystery of how and why acute pain sometimes transforms into chronic pain,” says Dr. Story Landis, Ph.D., Director of the NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). “This transformation is associated with changes—or plasticity—in the brain that we do not yet fully understand.”
In the forefront of pain research are scientists supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Many of the NIH Institutes and Centers—including NINDS—are part of the NIH Pain Consortium, which is meant to enhance pain research and promote collaboration among researchers.

Pain at End of Life

Chronic pain management at the end of life—in hospice, hospital, or home settings—is the focus of research and a graduate training program at the NIH Clinical Center.

The NIH Pain and Palliative Care Service conducts studies in pain and symptom management, quality of life, complementary therapies, and palliative medicine outcomes.

Hospice care is end-of-life care provided by health professionals and volunteers. They give medical, psychological, and spiritual support. The goal of the care is to help people who are dying have peace, comfort, and dignity. The caregivers try to control pain and other symptoms, so a person can remain as alert and comfortable as possible. Hospice programs also provide services to support a patient’s family.

Hospice and palliative care is an expanding area of research within the NIH Pain Consortium.

Spring 2011 Issue: Volume 6 Number 1 Page 7