UNTHSC pain research registry to expand statewide

May 3, 2019

By Alex Branch 
.Lic Web
An innovative pain research registry at UNT Health Science Center will expand to other major Texas cities, a big step for the project that could help change the way chronic pain is treated

The PRECISION Pain Research Registry allows UNTHSC researchers to analyze the DNA of people who suffer chronic lower back pain with the goal of deciphering which patients are more likely to respond to specific drugs, such as opioids. 

Chronic pain affects one in five adults in the United States. The research focuses on lower back pain because it one of the most common maladies. 

The DNA of about 600 participants has already been entered into the registry since it was created in 2016, said John Licciardone, DO, MS, MBA, Professor of Family Medicine and the Richards-Cohen Distinguished Chair in Clinical Research.  

“Expanding the research registry from the Fort Worth area to cities like Dallas, Austin, Houston and San Antonio can dramatically enhance our research capabilities because the sample size within the registry is going to grow rapidly,” Dr. Licciardone said. “I’m not aware of any similar statewide pain research registries so what we are doing at the Health Science Center is unique.” 

The project – funded thus far by $1.5 million in grants from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation, Institute for Patient Safety, SaferCare Texas and the American Osteopathic Association – was created in part to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of opioids and other drugs. 

“By far the two most commonly used drugs for back pain are opioids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and they both may be associated with problems,” Dr. Licciardone said. “Based on the data we collect, we can look at the genes that control how these drugs are metabolized and predict who is at the greatest risk for side effects.” 

On one end of the spectrum are people who metabolize opioids, such as codeine, very quickly, which puts them at high risk for serious side effects, such as respiratory depression. At the other end are people who are poor codeine metabolizers and are unlikely to experience pain relief. 

“If doctors have access to that information, it could lead them to prescribe fewer opioids, which can improve outcomes and reduce addiction,” Dr. Licciardone said. “So we are studying how we can we use the DNA information we have to tailor a particular treatment to an individual patient. That’s really the essence of precision medicine.” 

To prepare for expansion, researchers significantly upgraded the program’s software and remote data collection capabilities. Instead of traveling to UNTHSC to provide research data and submit a saliva DNA sample, participants in other cities will receive a Web-based survey and package in the mail with the kit and instructional video to provide their own saliva sample and send it back to UNTHSC through a courier service.  

Participants, who are compensated for their time, also periodically answer Web-based research surveys as part of the project and may be eligible for other pain-related studies. Researchers hope to grow the registry to 2,000 participants by the end of 2020. 

To learn more about participation requirements, call 817-735-5410 or email registry officials.

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