Developing a better way to detect overactive nerves in chronic pain

Disease - Fibromyalgia

Lead applicant - Dr Jim Dunham

Organisation - University of Bristol

Type of grant - Early Career Researcher in Pain Awards 2019

Status of grant - Active

Amount of the original award - £107,309.00

Start date - 01 July 2020

Reference - 22487

Public Summary

What are the aims of this research?

This research project aims to develop a new technique to detect the activity of nerves that are overactive in chronic pain. The technique will be able to sense electrical activity of multiple nerves simultaneously, giving a more complete picture of nerve activity in chronic pain.

Why is this research important?

Chronic pain isn’t always directly related to an injury or damage. Sometimes messages between the nerves and the brain can become disturbed so that the nerves remain unusually sensitive and continue to fire off pain signals even after a physical problem has cleared up. Some peoples' chronic pain is associated with abnormal activity in damage-sensing nerves called "nociceptors".

It is possible to sense the activity of nociceptors with using electrodes in a technique called microneurography. However currently this technique can only be used to “listen” to activity of single nerves. It is also technically difficult to perform and does not give strong readings, therefore is not used to diagnose chronic pain and guide treatment.

Researchers will develop a new technique to sense activity in multiple nerves, and computer software to analyse the signals. They will then test how effective the technique is at detecting signals in nociceptors in people with chronic pain.

How will the findings benefit patients?

Improving our ability to detect chronic pain signals will help us to understand how and why it happens. It could also provide a new technique to diagnose chronic pain and guide treatment.

Understanding why nociceptor activity changes may also allow researchers to explore new ways to treat chronic pain by targeting these nerves.