A London-based consortium exploring new ways to tackle chronic pain has received £5 million (7 million euros) from the UK’s Wellcome Trust to build on an existing five-year research programme.

The London Pain Consortium (LPC), which includes researchers from Imperial College London, King’s College London and now the University of Oxford, was originally set up in 2002 with funding from the Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest medical research charity. The new £5 million Strategic Award will be complemented by more than £1 million from the partner institutions.

Chronic pain affects one in five adults and is responsible for an estimated 500 million lost working days at a cost of 34 billion euros a year in Europe, the Wellcome Trust says. Yet despite recent advances in understanding how pain is processed in the body, there has been little progress in leveraging this understanding into better treatments.

“The last two decades have given us a wealth of knowledge regarding the biochemical processes that underlie chronic pain, but the excitement and optimism of the laboratory is tempered by the stark reality of the clinic,” commented Dr Andrew Rice, clinical reader in pain research at Imperial College London. “The challenge now is put this knowledge into a human context and ultimately translate it to better care for patients.”

In keeping with the complexity of their target, the LPC researchers will use techniques ranging from bioinformatics and molecular biology through integrated systems neuroscience to experimental medicine studies using functional imaging and genetic analysis. Genome-wide association studies, looking at genetic markers across the human genome, will provide an insight into how genetic variations between individuals affect the evolution of chronic pain and people’s sensitivity to analgesics.

New group
The LPC now includes the functional brain imaging group led by Professor Irene Tracey of the FMRIB (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain) Centre at Oxford University. This will enable the consortium to explore, using functional magnetic resonance imaging scanners, the extensive changes in the central nervous system that lead to the development and maintenance of chronic pain states. The outcome could be potentially novel targets for therapeutic intervention as well as biomarkers for assessing different treatments.

The London Pain Consortium will also continue to provide a research training programme in neuroscience and pain in particular, centred on a four-year PhD course.