Major research project to study chronic pain

Chronic pain is a major global public health challenge that causes significant disability. A new research consortium and national chronic pain data hub could improve outcomes for the many people living with painful and debilitating conditions, such as fibromyalgia, lower back pain, headaches and migraines, thanks to a joint £14 million grant from UKRI and Versus Arthritis.

The consortium and hub is a joint and equal investment from UKRI and Versus Arthritis. For UKRI, the initiative is led by the Medical Research Council, with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

The new Advanced Pain Discovery Platform will see four new research consortium and a national chronic pain data hub. One of the projects, a four-year £3.8 million study focusing on the psychosocial aspect of chronic pain, will be led by the University of Bath and involve researchers from the universities of Bristol, Bath Spa, Cardiff, Keele, Royal Holloway, University College London, and UWE Bristol.

The project will study the psychological and social factors that influence people’s experience of pain. To date, researchers understanding of their relative importance is limited and little is known how psychosocial factors influence biological signals of pain.

The work being carried out by Bristol researchers will also include the use of data from the world-renowned health study Children of the Nineties. Researchers will ask people taking part in the study to tell them about their pain, and will find out how many are living with pain as well as the impact that this has on their daily lives including, mental health, relationships, social lives, work and other important details. By looking at how daily life and pain are connected, the research team will have a clearer understanding of what it means to live with pain, and what could help in the management of their pain.

Professor Ed Keogh of the Bath Centre for Pain Research at the University of Bath, and consortium lead and principal investigator, explained: “Chronic pain is incredibly common and can be highly debilitating. With one in five of us experiencing chronic pain, this new research funding provides a much needed and timely opportunity to understand better how chronic pain develops and is maintained.

“Pain is a highly complex topic, and this funding will enable us to conduct transformative research. Not only does it allow us to research the mechanisms underpinning chronic pain in more detail, but it also enables us to work together collaboratively across different institutions and with colleagues across the UK. Greater understanding will ultimately help us to develop better ways of treating and managing pain.”

Rachael Gooberman-Hill, Professor of Health and Anthropology, Director of the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute and consortium lead at the University of Bristol, said: “We have great strengths in pain research at Bristol, and our researchers are focused on work that makes a difference to people living with pain. By working in the national project our research will help us to understand why some people have long-term pain while other people don’t. This will help us to develop ways to help people living with pain, which is the ultimate aim of our research.”

Dr Neha Issar-Brown, Director of Research at Versus Arthritis, explained: “We are delighted to be supporting Professor Keogh and colleagues to deliver this consortium as part of the ground-breaking Advanced Pain Discovery Platform (APDP).

“We know that millions of people live in chronic pain every day, a vast majority of whom have musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis. For many of them current treatments are not effective. People living with pain have told us that pain is complex and multidimensional. Research into pain needs to reflect this and understanding more about the psychological and social factors that are important in chronic pain is critical to improve our understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms, holistically, to lead the way to more innovative treatments. I’m confident that research funded through the APDP initiative will help transform the lives of people affected by chronic pain.”

For more about the project and wider UKRI and Versus Arthritis funding, visit: https://www.ukri.org/news/new-data-hub-and-research-into-chronic-pain/

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