Relieving Chronic Pain
Uncontrolled pain. It disrupts sleep, wears the sufferer down, and erodes the quality of life. This type of pain is the single most common cause of disability. It drives people to doctors and hospitals but gets a disproportionate amount of consideration from the medical community. Managing or relieving pain gets little attention in most medical school curriculums.
Gary Bennett's research involves efforts to understand the neural mechanisms that cause chronic pain in people whose nerves are damaged by trauma, disease, metabolic problems, as well as certain drugs and toxins. This kind of pain can follow attacks of shingles, diabetic neuropathy, amputation, thoracotomy (a surgical incision of the chest wall), and pain caused by drugs used to treat cancer and HIV. Unlike other kinds of chronic pain, aspirin- and morphine-like drugs relieve it very poorly, or not at all.
One of the major areas Bennett will study is the involvement of the immune system in neuropathic pain. Patients with pain from a variety of causes will be studied, and Bennett will use rats to mimic the painful conditions seen in people.
Using the rats as animal models helps to screen potential new pain-control drugs. Bennett expects to work with pharmaceutical companies to design, conduct, and interpret clinical trials to investigate the efficacy of the drugs.
Previously, Bennett has demonstrated the involvement of the immune system in neuropathic pain, and has traced the pain pathways connecting the spinal cord to the brain-key data for scientists trying to understand the source of such pain.
Up to 33 percent of the population suffers from chronic pain, a condition that particularly affects seniors. The number will grow as the population ages. One U.S. survey suggests that chronic pain cost the American economy 550 million lost working days each year-a major economic impact.
Bennett's recruitment to Canada to take up this chair will lead to further advances in treatment and management of chronic pain. There is also the possibility of significant development for pharmaceutical companies working in conjunction with the university's pain centre.