Philanthropic funding brings new hope to those with chronic pain

Some of the nation’s leading pain experts are set to embark on research which they believe will change the way chronic pain is managed.

The program of research will be carried out by the team from the Pain Management Research Institute after generous funding from the Ernest Heine Family Foundation.

Located within the Kolling Institute and Royal North Shore Hospital, the Pain Management Research Institute is part of the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Medicine and Health. It is the Ministry of Health’s designated lead site for pain research in NSW.

Institute Director Professor Paul Glare said more than $2,820,000 will go towards three projects over the next three years through the Pathways to Better Pain Management Program.

“Chronic pain affects 20 per cent of the population and one third of people over 65,” he said.

“It is the major cause of disability, costing the Australian economy an estimated $73 billion a year.

“There is a pressing need to develop better management strategies, so we will be launching three research initiatives, which together have the best chance of improving the lives of those living with chronic pain.”

The projects include:

  • Research led by Dr Karin Aubrey and Professor Chris Vaughan which aims to uncover new biological mechanisms which produce and maintain chronic pain. This will help to develop safer and more effective medications for chronic pain.
  • Research led by Professor Paul Glare and Dr Claire Ashton-James to develop digital behavioural interventions to help patients alter their attitudes and behaviour in response to pain, and lower the use of potentially harmful opioid medications.
  • Research led by Associate Professor Paul Wrigley to provide better support to people with chronic pain in the community, reducing their need for Emergency Department care.

Associate Professor Paul Wrigley said his project ED PainPATH represented a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the needs of people with chronic pain and improve access to essential support.

“With the help of a large hospital and community team from across NSW, a care pathway for people with chronic pain is being assessed,” he said.

“It will support people to manage distressing chronic pain through a co-ordinated care program, improving health outcomes and reducing costs.

“Importantly, this initiative could be adopted across the state if it proves successful.”

Dr Karin Aubrey has welcomed the substantial funding for her research, saying there are currently very few effective medications for ongoing pain.

“Chronic pain is challenging to treat and there’s a lot we still don’t understand about what happens in the brain when chronic pain develops,” she said.

“If we can gain a better understanding of how long-term pain changes the brain, we will be in a better position to reduce it.

“Our research will aim to identify new drug targets that influence chronic pain, and this will help us develop new medicines to effectively treat the pain,” Dr Aubrey said.

Professor Glare said we are incredibly grateful to the Ernest Heine Family Foundation for this very generous funding, especially at this time with so much economic uncertainty.

“We anticipate our research will improve the lives of many Australians living with chronic pain, and we are excited to commence this important collection of work.

“We are confident it will deliver results by identifying new drug targets, reducing the use of opioid medications and improving care across the community.”