UC teams up with University of Michigan and Eli Lilly to tackle chronic pain

CINCINNATI – Americans are living longer and dealing with more backaches, arthritis and migraines -- but medicine hasn't kept up.

A new team aims to change that. University of Cincinnati, University of Michigan and Eli Lilly researchers will pool their resources as the Midwest Paint Consortium to study new ways to deal with chronic pain of all sorts.

They'll use $400,000 seed money from Lilly, the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical giant, to first study osteoarthritis – the most common kind that involves pain and swelling from worn down cartilage – and a range of other conditions if their initial work is productive. There's also an added benefit of creating high-paying jobs for the Tri-State, Ann Arbor and Indianapolis.

Dale Edgar, Lilly's global head of Science and Technology Partnerships, hopes the initial research is the beginning of a much more ambitious collaboration among universities and other pharmaceutical companies to find new therapies for the management of chronic pain to meet a pressing need.

"By 2050, 29.7 percent of Americans will be 85 or older," Edgar said. "Pain management will be prominent amongst the issues (for the elderly) unless we come up with better therapies because the solutions that are available for these patients today are really inadequate."

Medicine to deal with chronic pain today may work well on some patients but not at all on others, while a small percentage will have an adverse reaction that compounds their problems. And we don't really understand why, Edgar said.

"We want this work to be published to create a catalyst event for this area. I'm excited because we can use this forum to innovate in health care," he said. "Bringing the right drug to the right patients at the right time is the challenge. There's no clear prescribed way to do that."

Dr. Lesley Arnold, professor of psychiatry and a co-leader of the project, said her team will use advanced neuro-imaging technology to study the different ways pain manifests itself.

"We think we can identify differences among sufferers, which is the first step toward personalized treatment management," she said. "We have made tremendous progress in the last few decades toward understanding chronic pain, mostly to neuroimaging techniques. However, many gaps in our knowledge exist, and the treatment of chronic pain is only modestly effective."

The consortium plans to later study lower back pain, fibromyalgia, headaches, neuropathic pain, she said.

The initial work will help fund existing research jobs at UC, Arnold said, but UC President Santa Ono believes initial success will lead to expanded research and job creation in Cincinnati.

"This is the first of its kind collaboration among universities and the private sector in the area of chronic pain, and it will be beneficial to the whole pharmaceutical industry," he said, tapping into a market ripe for innovation.

He said 100 million Americans experience some form of chronic pain -- more than the number of people that suffer from heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined.

"For the future of the economy in this region and the state of Ohio, it's really important to catalyze job creation," Ono said.

Dr. Thomas Boat, dean of UC's college of medicine, emphasized the gap between research and application that needs to be bridged. "We are serious about growing the research programs of the college of med and the health affairs college," he said.

Boat is a pediatric lung specialist who does his best with existing therapies to mitigate pain in his young patients, but he's not satisfied with his options.

"This is a big problem, and it's one that we don't deal with very well," Boat said.

The consortium, he is confident, will make headway.

"We're going to change outcomes," he said.

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