Pain Gets Personal: UConn Health to Host Symposium

Pain gets personal on Nov. 30 in Farmington, Connecticut. Researchers from around North America will gather to discuss how genetics, diet, and lifestyle all influence a person’s pain and whether it will become chronic.

Preventing the transition from acute to chronic pain, and treating pain generally without resorting to opioids, will be a major focus of the symposium, which is sponsored by the UConn Schools of Medicine and of Nursing and the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine.

“Once chronic pain develops, it’s really hard to reverse,” says UConn neuroscientist and 2017 Rita Allen Foundation Scholar Kyle Baumbauer. At the symposium, Baumbauer will discuss a particularly nasty form of chronic pain that afflicts close to 80 percent of people with a spinal cord injury. “It’s pain that is ironic. People with spinal cord injury lose feeling below the break [in the spine]. But they do also experience this pain that never goes away. They can’t feel their legs – except that they burn all the time,” Baumbauer says. He will present new research that explains why spinal cord injuries cause chronic burning pain, and how acting fast could potentially prevent it.

Three other researchers from UConn will also present at the symposium. UConn associate dean of nursing Angela Starkweather will discuss changes in genetic expression that accompany pain medication, yoga, diet, or lifestyle changes, and how this could help direct treatment of lower back pain. Geneticist Erin Young will look at patterns of gene expression that predict pain in children with irritable bowel syndrome. And professor of medicine and nursing William Zempsky will discuss treatment of chronic pain in sickle cell disease.

Other highlights of the symposium include a talk by 2016 Rita Allen Foundation Scholar, University of Alabama Birmingham’s Robert Sorge, who will speak on how dietary choices can influence pain. There will also be talks by Duke University dentist and pain specialist William Maixner, who orchestrated the largest genome study of pain ever funded by the National Institutes of Health; Yale University’s Robert Kerns, a psychologist and expert both on opioids and non-pharmacological treatment of pain; University of Texas-Dallas pharmacologist and neurobiologist Theodore Price on what big data can tell us about why people transition from acute to chronic pain; and a discussion of the genetics of chronic pain by physician and molecular biologist Luda Diatchenko from McGill University.