CINCINNATIThe National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has awarded $1.7 million to University of Cincinnati (UC) anesthesiology researchers to study a condition that costs Americans $50 billion a yearlow back pain.
Back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans younger than 45 years old and is experienced by 50 to 80 percent of adults at some point in their lives. Back pain becomes chronic if it persists for more than three months and the cause can sometimes be difficult to determine.
The UC researchers are focusing their five-year study on inflammation and how its effects on sensory neurons in the low back cause persistent chronic pain.
The team, led by Jun-Ming Zhang, MD, director of UCs Pain Research Center, believes small molecules called chemokines are key factors in the development of pain. Chemokines are a family of small cytokineschemical messenger molecules used by immune and nerve cells to communicate with other cells.
If we can determine the role these chemokines play in the development of back pain we can hopefully develop better medications to treat the problem, says Zhang.
Zhang says acute (short-term) pain can actually be beneficial. Acute pain responses to potentially dangerous stimulilike the neural circuitry that tells you to pull your hand away from a hot stoveare essential for survival, says Zhang.
But when pain becomes chronic, it serves no useful purpose, he says, and often affects a persons quality of life.
Back pain can be caused by physical trauma such as a sports injury, lifting heavy items or from a car accident, Zhang explains. For others, medical conditions such as a herniated disc cause pain. But many people experience back pain for no apparent reason.
When a patient goes to the doctor for low back pain, they may undergo an MRI or an X-ray. Sometimes these tests show anatomical reasons for the pain such as a herniated disc. But
|Contact: Jamie Kaun|
University of Cincinnati