Skip to main content

Quicker relief for chronic pain sufferers

Dr. Luda Diatchenko is working to solve a mystery afflicting 20 per cent of Canadians: chronic pain.

Canada Research Chair and McGill Professor Luda Diatchenko

Canada Research Chair and McGill Professor Luda Diatchenko

“Pain is the number one reason people consult doctors,” says Luda Diatchenko, McGill’s first Canada Excellence Research Chair in Human Pain Genetics. “So it’s incredible to think that the study of pain mechanisms is only now in its infancy.”

Chronic pain is a debilitating problem, and not just for those afflicted by it. It’s a strain on the entire health care system. Annual medical expenses for the treatment of chronic pain in Canada and the United States total more than the costs associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer combined.

“McGill is leading the charge in this field,” says Diatchenko, “with an incredibly well-supported Pain Centre, and an intellectual environment that allows researchers to explore new techniques and directions.”

The latest research on pain sensitivity recognizes that how people respond is largely determined by a complex interplay between environmental and genetic factors. Through her work at McGill’s Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain, Diatchenko’s ultimate objective is to better understand these genetic factors as a basis for developing new pain-relief drugs and personalized pain therapy.

“Right now pain is not well understood. People develop pain for different reasons and consequently react to medications in a variety of ways,” Diatchenko explains.

“If we can map out the factors that contribute to chronic pain, it will lead to the development of medications that would be prescribed based on the genetic makeup and specific pain profile of a given patient.”

This type of personalized pain management could dramatically reduce the personal struggles patients live with on a daily basis.

“Being able to predict which drug will benefit which patient would likely improve quality of life for people living with conditions like tension headaches, arthritis, and other illnesses associated with chronic pain,” Diatchenko says. “The impact could be huge.”

As a Canada Excellence Research Chair, Diatchenko is receiving $10 million in federal funding for her research program and over $20 million in matching funds from private and public partners.

“Pain research is not considered a big field right now, so the support we’re receiving is critical,” Diatchenko says. “It will allow us to continue to bring attention to this huge healthcare problem. And hopefully we’ll be able to eventually reduce the suffering for millions of people living with chronic pain.”