FIGHTING CHRONIC PAIN: THE ACADEMIC CRUSADE TO CREATE NEW THERAPIES
One in six patients, treated with existing medications, achieves relief between 30% and 50%. A multidisciplinary team seeks to combine preclinical research with clinical research and thus reach the patient more effectively.
“For years I have felt pain. I take painkillers, corticosteroids and even had a blockage to my spine, but the pain does not subside. My quality of life has dropped a lot, I’m not the same as before”, said Jorge Araneda, who after a car accident 20 years ago was left with chronic pain.
Like Araneda, it is estimated that 30% of the population suffers from chronic pain, a condition that despite the limitations it generates in patients and the high cost of medications, over $100,000 per month on average, is not included as a GES pathology.
Hence the importance of the work being carried out by the Universidad de Concepción (UdeC) together with the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC), the Universidad de Santiago de Chile, the Universidad Católica del Norte and the Universidad de Chile, which formed an association scientist to investigate neuropathic pain mechanisms and find new treatment options.
Dr. Gonzalo Yévenes, academic at UdeC and associate researcher at the Millennium Nucleus for the Study of Pain (MiNuSPain) explained that the translational scientific alliance they formed addresses from different fronts, integrating biomedical and clinical sciences to understand the mechanisms of pain and generate new therapies that may be relevant to treat neuropathic pain. integration between biomedical and clinical science.
The director of the nucleus, Dr. Margarita Calvo, an academic in the Physiology department of at PUC, explained that “neuropathic pain is an alteration caused by a disease that affects the somatosensory nervous system, damaging the nerve fibers where the pain receptors are housed and altering perception ”.
The neuropathic pain that affects between 7% to 10% of the population, as she explained, appears without prior warning and that makes patients start to feel fear and avoid some activities of their daily life, which has psychic, emotional consequences, social and labor.
Treatment is complex. “Out of every six patients treated with the available drugs, only one achieves results, but this result means that their pain will only decrease by 30% and 50%. This lack of efficacy, added to the fact that they have a long list of adverse effects, makes many patients abandon their treatments”, said the doctor from the chronic pain unit at UC Christus.
Drugs and public policy
The consequences of this are devastating for those who suffer it, “without treatment options, these patients are left with very severe and disabling pain that, in addition, is little understood by their environment, because the cause is not a visible injury, but is nerve fiber damage that cannot be seen with the naked eye ”, said the academic.
MiNuSPain is approaching the study of pain signaling pathways from different perspectives, both at the peripheral nervous system level and at the central level
“Our project integrates preclinical research with clinical research, the ideal combination; that could lead us to better understand the processes. But, at the same time, it will allow us to generate new drug targets, both in the sensory neuron and in the central nervous system, be it the spinal cord or even at the level of the brain ”, stated Yévenes.
With this, he assured, the possibilities of finding new treatments that improve the effectiveness of the current ones are expanded and, at the same time, contribute with research so that in Chile a public policy of chronic pain is generated, which makes the problem visible.
“Diagnoses are often complex around pain. One of the reasons is related to the fact that pain, by definition, involves a sensory and emotional experience, which can be very diverse between patients, so it is difficult to quantify, through a specific examination”, said Yévenes.
The drugs that have the best effect on patients are opioids, such as morphine. However, according to the specialists, they produce high addiction and even mortality, so it is important to find new drugs that are efficient and without adverse effects.
«We have to investigate the mechanisms behind pain to discover new drugs», said Calvo. She explained that a study being carried out in the Maule, in the population of healthy subjects over 38 years of age, a third of the patients declare having chronic pain for more than three months. Finding that 4% of fibromyalgia, 12% in neuropathic pain ”, explained Dr. Calvo.
The expenditure to manage pain in chronic patients, which corresponds to 10% per year of health for the entire country, is equal to that allocated for research. «We are spending a lot of money on something that I wish we could prevent or alleviate something», said Calvo.
Pain management is achieved according to Dr. Yévenes, working in partnership with clinical staff to reach people and also being clear in the message that chronic pain is a condition and that it deserves to be made visible.
Credits: Diario Concepción.