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Approved Research

Understanding the mechanisms of pain (heterogeneity)

Principal Investigator: Dr Marieke Coenen
Approved Research ID: 64102
Approval date: January 11th 2021

Lay summary

Pain is the most frequent cause of suffering and disability. The mechanisms leading to pain are still not fully understood. Pain is presented very differently in individuals; it is known that people have different pain thresholds. Also, as part of diseases there is a lot of heterogeneity e.g. some people with rheumatoid arthritis develop chronic pain whereas others do not. In addition, pain treatment is not optimal. Some people respond very well to treatment whereas others do not respond at all. These individual differences of pain are determined by many factors, including demographic, clinical, environmental and genetic profiles.

In this project we will make use of the UK biobank data to gain more insight into the (biological) pathways contributing to pain. We will investigate the role of demographic, clinical and genetic factors contributing to the development of pain. For example, we will investigate if demographic factors (e.g. age and sex) and psychiatric factors (e.g. anxiety and depression) are linked to chronic pain. In addition, we aim to identify genetic factors associated with pain. We will also investigate if there are shared risk factors between different types of pain. At clinical level, as an example, we could investigate if people with back pain have the same clinical characteristics as patients with rheumatoid arthritis that developed chronic pain. At genetic level, we will figure out whether certain genes (pathways) linked to pain exclusively exists in certain types of pain or whether the genetic factors are the same for specific types of pain. This will help us to understand the biological pathways involved in (different types of) pain.

For the response to pain treatment, we will perform similar analysis as described above to identify which (genetic) factors predict if a person will respond to pain treatment and which patients do not. This project will run for 3 years.

With this study we will gain insight in the factors and biological pathways contributing to pain. By understanding the underlying (genetic) heterogeneity of pain will provide clinical guidance to predict who is more prone to develop pain and we will contribute to the development of personalized treatment plans.