Department of Anesthesiology and Hussman Institute Team Up to Fight Pain

Roy C. Levitt, M.D., professor of anesthesiology and director of translational research and academic affairs, and statistical geneticist Eden R. Martin, Ph.D., professor of human genetics and director of the Center for Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics at the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics, have been awarded a five-year $2.5 million NIH grant to study genetic susceptibility to certain persistent pain syndromes.

For the grant, “CA8 Variants: New Mechanisms Underlying Transitions to Persistent Pain Syndromes,” Levitt and Martin will study the human carbonic anhydrase 8 gene (CA8) and its role in pain signals.

Awarded by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the grant will enable the researchers to explore compelling preliminary data that, for the first time, identified a biologic variation in neuronal CA8 that is associated with multiple and common persistent pain syndromes.

“We believe that functional DNA variants in CA8 underlie susceptibility to certain persistent pain syndromes,” said Levitt, who is also a trained geneticist and member of the Hussman Institute.

Using powerful multidisciplinary genomic approaches, Levitt and Martin will study the most perplexing problems in orofacial and other forms of persistent pain by identifying polymorphic genes and biologic pathways associated with altered pain perception and how they relate to susceptibility for persistent pain at the so-called acute to chronic pain transition. Specifically, they hope that identifying these DNA risk variants and their functional impact on the CA8 pathway will lead to improved interventions for persistent pain sufferers.

“These risk variants could be used as biomarkers of disease susceptibility, progression, and therapeutic response to advance patient care,” Levitt said.
Patients are increasingly transitioning from acute to persistent pain syndromes, leading to considerable morbidity and reduced quality of life, and an estimated $100 billion annual burden, much of it spent on inadequate treatments.

The grant is also the largest in the Department of Anesthesiology’s history.

“It is gratifying to see years of investment pay off with such a substantial reward,” said Keith Candiotti, M.D., professor of clinical anesthesiology, executive vice chair and chief operating officer of anesthesiology, perioperative medicine and pain management. “The focus of the grant is representative of our interest in pain research and marks our status as a prominent center for research in this area.”

“With the knowledge gained from these studies on CA8 and the mechanisms of the transition from acute to chronic pain, we will advance the field to better address the major unmet needs of persistent pain sufferers,” said David A. Lubarsky, M.D., M.B.A., the Emanuel M. Papper Professor and Chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative Medicine and Pain Management, who also serves as Executive Dean for Clinical Affairs, CEO of the UHealth Physician Practice and CMO of UHealth.

“This brings us one step closer to helping those who suffer from debilitating chronic pain regain their lives.”

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