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Transforming research on chronic pain

Principal Investigator:
  • Michael Salter, The Hospital for Sick Children
Team Members:
  • Yves De Koninck, Université Laval
  • Jeffrey Mogil, McGill University
  • Karen D. Davis, University of Toronto
  • Min Zhuo, University of Toronto

Project Overview

Pain affects millions of people worldwide and has a profound negative effect on quality of life. Untreated pain is the most common cause of disability that impairs life. Acute pain is a normal sensation triggered by the nervous system to alert the body to an injury. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is a pain that lasts long after the usual recovery period of the initial injury or illness and may even be present without a cause. This sort of pain poses no known defensive or helpful function.

Neuropathic pain is a type of chronic pain that occurs after nerve injury or from disease, where the signs of original injury are gone. It is extremely debilitating and is resistant to available treatments. Neuropathic pain can be seen in patients with diabetes, cancer, HIV and other disorders.

The goal this project was to gain new insights into the genetic, molecular and cellular mechanisms regarding why pain becomes chronic and how chronic pain information is stored and processed in the brain. This new knowledge will lead to advances in diagnostics, therapeutics and management for those suffering with neuropathic pain. The understanding of these mechanisms can lead to the development of a new generation of drugs aimed at selectively targeting and treating chronic pain and repairing damaged nervous function.

By showing altered brain function and genetic components in chronic pain, this research will help in reducing the severe stigmatization of people suffering from chronic pain. In addition, patients with neuropathic pain often suffer from depression secondarily and any improved pain control can improve mental health overall.

In a broader sense, the molecular mechanisms elucidated in this research are relevant in the study of other Central Nervous System disorders such Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and neuroinflammatory disease.