To advance our understanding of brain-body interactions important for the development, maintenance and alleviation of chronic pain.
The Clinical Problem
Chronic persistent pain represents one of the most costly and difficult challenges facing our health care system. The prestigious Institute of Medicine recently reported that that chronic pain affects 116 million American adults and costs the nation up to $635 billion each year in medical treatment and lost productivity. Almost everyone has had their lives impacted by chronic pain at one time or another, whether directly through their own experience of suffering and disability or by observing the suffering and disability of a close relative or friend.
The Research Challenge
But pain remains a puzzle. Why do some injuries heal but nevertheless continue to hurt? How can one feel pain in a limb even after it has been amputated? Why do many of us have pain in widespread parts of our body without any obvious damage, infection or inflammation, and why do others hardly feel any pain at all despite serious physical trauma? These questions are not just academic; our lack of understanding of why chronic pain develops is a prime reason that there has been no real breakthrough in new pain medications or procedures despite large scale efforts by pharmaceutical companies and the National Institutes of Health. Opioid drugs like morphine, Vicodin, and Oxycontin have been used for 5000 years to treat pain, and still remain our number one medication despite growing concerns regarding their safety and long term effectiveness.
The Brain in Chronic Pain
Some parts of the pain puzzle have been solved in the last 20 years. A major breakthrough has been the confirmation that regardless of source of injury, the brain plays a critical role in determining the amount, quality, and persistence of pain that is experienced. Sometimes, such as after an injury has healed, or in the presence of stress, the brain is likely the key player in maintaining the experience of pain and ‘overrules’ signals from the body that everything is OK.
Goals of the Pain Program
The Pain Research Program as part of the CNS is working on ‘Bringing the Brain Back into Pain Medicine’. We are engaged in exciting, cutting-edge research on how the brain and body interact to cause and relive pain, and are focused on finding better treatments for those suffering from chronic pain. As you browse our site you will see we have a wide-ranging portfolio of pain research initiatives, from large scale collaborative studies to smaller targeted research projects – and we study multiple types of chronic pain in both men and women. Despite this diversity, all these efforts are connected by our commitment to solving the puzzle of pain and finding new solutions for chronic pain suffers.
Emeran Mayer, Bruce Naliboff, Kirsten Tillisch, Jennifer Labus, Lisa Kilpatrick