Research, Services

UNC Renames Regional Center for Neurosensory Disorders

Institutional officials at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently gave approval to the Regional Center for Neurosensory Disorders to change its name to the Center for Pain Research and Innovation.

The decision to rename the center was made to better reflect the interdisciplinary work being carried out by researchers. The Center for Pain Research and Innovation dedicates its work to characterizing the biological, psychological and genetic factors that contribute to acute and persistent pain, with the ultimate goals of identifying individuals most at risk for the development of painful conditions and contributing to the genesis of new therapies based on an individual’s unique profile.

At the time of its establishment in 2005, the center’s focus was on orofacial pain, primarily temporomandibular joint disorder and fibromyalgia syndrome. Because patients often reported the coexistence of these and other pain-related conditions, Dr. William Maixner, center director, and others suspected that their origins were linked in some way beyond environmental causes such as injury. As the group initiated studies of other disorders including irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headache, neuropathy, low-back pain, and vulvar vestibulitis syndrome, it incorporated psychological and molecular testing into its research methods to explore potential associations among these conditions. Since that time, members of the Center for Pain Research and Innovation have published more than 200 articles describing their findings and have engaged in numerous collaborative projects among scientists and clinicians both within and outside the UNC infrastructure.

The Human Genome Project continues to inform researchers engaged in the discovery of biomarkers of specific diseases and conditions, and center researchers have been using increasingly sophisticated technologies to identify mechanisms by which certain substances associated with pain sensitivity are produced, expressed and regulated. With virtually all of its ongoing studies having a genetic component, the potential to address current research questions while building a biorepository to test future, as yet unknown hypotheses, speaks to the center’s focus on innovation that is reflected in its new name.

As Maixner explains, “Our program is recognized as being on the cutting edge of pain research and produces highly innovative and clinically applicable findings. We do not conduct pain research in isolation; rather, we enlist clinicians from across the medical and dental specialties, as well as psychologists, alternative/complementary medicine practitioners, biomedical engineers, neuroscientists and biostatisticians. Our program’s name should focus on innovation since much of what we are doing impacts clinical pain management and patient care. The title, Center for Pain Research and Innovation, truly reflects what we do and will permit our stakeholders (sponsors, collaborators, patients, and the general public) to locate us on the web, stay abreast of our current and future endeavors, and become supporters of our threefold mission of research, education and patient care.”