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Miami's Hussman Institute Lands $2.5M for Persistent Pain Biomarker Hunt

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Researchers at the University of Miami School of Medicine plan to use a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to discover DNA variants that may function as biomarkers for susceptibility and therapeutic response for patients who suffer from persistent pain, the university said yesterday.

The team at the Hussman Institute for Human Genomics' Center for Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics will focus their efforts on studying variation in neuronal carbonic anhydrase 8 (CA8), which has been associated in mouse studies with persistent pain and variable nociception, the process of encoding noxious stimuli.

"We believe that functional DNA variants in CA8 underlie susceptibility to certain persistent pain syndromes," Professor Roy Levitt, lead investigator on the project, said in a statement.

The team will identify and validate functional CA8 variants involved in susceptibility to common persistent pain syndromes, including temporomandibular disease (TMD), TMD with widespread pain, sciatica, post-herpetic neuralgia, neuropathic pain after spinal cord injury, and osteoarthritis.

They will use exome arrays to identify SNPs associated with persistent pain, stiffness, and emotional and social function in a large osteoarthritis cohort, and then will select functional variants using bioinformatics techniques. The aim is to identify polymorphic genes and biologic pathways associated with altered pain perception and how those relate to susceptibility for persistent pain.

"These risk variants could be used as biomarkers of disease susceptibility, progression, and therapeutic response to advance patient care," Levitt added.

The university said that patients are increasingly transitioning from acute to persistent pain syndromes, causing "considerable morbidity and reduced quality of life," and an estimated $100 billion in spending, "much of it spent on inadequate treatments."

"With the knowledge gained from these studies on CA8 and the mechanisms of the transition from acute to chronic pain, we will advance the field to better address the major unmet needs of persistent pain sufferers," said Professor David Lubarsky, chair of the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative Medicine and Pain Management. "This brings us one step closer to helping those who suffer from debilitating chronic pain regain their lives."