HPRC News

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Researchers Receive Grant to Understand Brain Responses to Chronic Pain and Opioids

Dr. Desiree Azizoddin, a researcher at the TSET Health Promotion Research Center at OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center and Dr. Yuan Yang, a researcher at the University of Oklahoma, were recently awarded a grant to gain a better understanding of acute pain in individuals with and without chronic pain, in addition to exploring the effects of low-dose opioids.

The study -- “Pilot Research in Cortical Biomarkers for Pain Modulation” – received a $30,000 grant from the Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Science and Technology.

More than 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain each year and alternatives to opioid medications are urgently needed. Identifying effective treatments for pain is challenging because there is limited understanding of how the brain processes pain. Research focused on identifying the physiological correlation of pain in the brain (e.g., pain biomarkers) could lead to treatments to reduce chronic pain. Gaining a better understanding of how the brain responds to treatments for pain, such as opioids, is a critical but under studied step that is required for the development of novel and effective non-opioid therapies.

Yuan and Azizoddin have complementary expertise in brain-imaging, engineering and clinical pain psychology, providing a unique interdisciplinary foundation for exploring the interaction between chronic pain and the brain processes that are responsible for feeling pain. Their new study will use EEG brain imaging to identify areas of the brain that are activated during painful stimuli and compare activation for those with and without chronic pain.

The study will also characterize what happens to those same brain areas when people use low-dose opioids. EEG processes identified through this study should provide information leading to development of new interventions, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, to treat chronic pain. This new study will be a first step towards identifying new, non-opioid treatment approaches which are needed to reduce pain for the millions of people who suffer from chronic pain.

This research is primarily supported by IBEST-OUHSC Funding for Interdisciplinary Research, with additional support from the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Grant R22-02, Stephenson Cancer Center’s NCI Cancer Center via a Cancer Center Support Grant (P30CA225520), and Oklahoma Shared Clinical and Translational Resources (U54GM104938) with an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from NIGMS for using RedCap service.