The University of California, Los Angeles is serving as the main hub for the Pain and Interoception Imaging Network (PAIN), a standardized database for brain imaging associated with chronic pain.
The database will contain hundreds of brain scans and other clinical information that will help researchers analyze differences between chronic pain conditions such as migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis and fibromyalgia.
"We are now recognizing that chronic pain is a brain disease, and if we want to treat it more effectively, we need to better understand and treat the mechanisms in the brain that are driving it," Emeran Mayer, a professor of medicine in the divisions of digestive diseases, physiology and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said in an announcement. Mayer is also executive director of the Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress at UCLA, which will house the database.
The new imaging network will be developed with the help of a $300,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health; thus far, 14 institutions in the U.S. plan to participate in the network.
While imaging studies are promising when it comes to potential breakthroughs in chronic pain research, Mayer said such research is limited because individual institutions can only support small studies on their own, lack access to large patient samples, and face the problem that there is no standardization of data; that, he added, makes it difficult to combine brain scans from more multiple investigators who are using different kinds of scanners and imaging techniques.
"Like a fingerprint, researchers will be able to pick out distinct patterns from the scans of individuals with each pain condition and, combined with additional information provided by the network, assess how chronic pain manifests differently between men and women, across the life span, or between conditions," Bruce Naliboff, a professor in the departments of medicine and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Geffen School of Medicine and co-director of the Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress, said.
Mayer added that the imaging network can help researchers better identify treatments by targeting subsets of conditions. "The more information we can gather about each individual chronic-pain condition, the better we'll be at predicting how subsets of patients will react to therapies," he said.