The University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore is "uniquely poised" to spearhead a new collaborative Center for Pain Studies funded by a $2.4 million, five-year federal grant, said Susan Dorsey, PhD, RN, director of the center.
The School of Nursing is one of the nation's largest professional nursing schools and one of the best equipped for discovery research, said Dorsey. Also, clearing new scientific ground in understanding chronic pain—the thrust of the new center—well suits nurses, she said, due to their proximity to both patients and science. "We have bench to bedside and bedside to bench transfer of information," said Dorsey, an associate professor and principal investigator of the grant.
Chronic pain is a leading public health epidemic, affecting more than 25 million Americans and costing more than $165 billion per year in treatment expenses and lost work productivity. The center will concentrate on pain associated with cancer and cancer treatments. Although much is known of the symptoms, the genetics and molecular mechanism of pain are not well known.
The center is designed to focus on unraveling mysteries associated with damage to the peripheral nervous system, called peripheral neuropathy, which can be caused by certain chemotherapy drugs. Another focus will be on inflammation of mucosal tissue, called oral mucositis, caused by some chemotherapy and radiation. Each patient reacts differently to those treatments, said Dorsey.
For the first time, research nurses and physicians from several different disciplines are working together at the center on five initial projects to advance knowledge and treatments of oral mucositis and peripheral neuropathy. The center also includes researchers from the University's School of Medicine and Dental School, and the University of Maryland Medical Center's Marlene and Stuart Greenebaum Cancer Center.
The $2.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Nursing Research is the School's first P30 grant, a prestigious NIH category for establishing a core center for interdisciplinary studies. Dorsey said the grant is a "huge" step in such research because it is designed to provide infrastructure and support to develop and grow key core resources that center scientists can use to advance their work. A genetics core within the center, for example, will enable researchers to use "next generation" genomic analysis to reveal previously unknown causes underlying chronic pain.
Eventually information generated on pain genes will lead to new drugs, said Dorsey, a step toward personalized medicine in which groupings of patients with similar genetics may be treated with drugs targeting pain specific to their genes. "The train has already left the station. In 10 to 20 years we hope to be practicing personalized medicine," she said.