Pitt, UPMC get $32 million to study opioid misuse, pain management

Researchers from Pitt and UPMC have been awarded nine grants totaling more than $32 million from the National Institutes of Health to improve prevention and treatment strategies for opioid misuse and addiction and to enhance pain management.

The awards are part of 375 grant awards across 41 states made by the NIH in fiscal year 2019 to apply scientific solutions to reverse the national opioid crisis.

The UPMC and Pitt projects supported by the NIH HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-term) initiative are:

Low Back Pain: Biological, Biomechanical, Behavioral Phenotypes Mechanistic Research Center:  Primary investigators Gwendolyn Sowa, of Pitt’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute, and Nam Vo, of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, were awarded $21.5 million to establish a multidisciplinary research center dedicated to categorizing patients into chronic low back pain subgroups with the goal of targeting treatments specific to individual patients’ pain and reducing the use of opioids.

Proof of Concept Study to Treat Negative Affect in Chronic Low Back Pain: Principal investigator Ajay D. Wasan, of Pitt’s Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, received $3.4 million to address the need for better evidence-based pain treatment for patients with chronic low back pain who have co-occurring mental health disorders.

University of Pittsburgh Hub and Spoke Pain Clinical Trial Network: Wasan and the Pitt Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine also received more than $1 million to conduct more rigorous multi-site pain clinical trials with an experienced multidisciplinary team of investigators.

Integrated Approach to Pain and Opioid Use in Hemodialysis Patients: The Hemodialysis Opioid Prescription Effort (HOPE) Consortium: Principal investigators Manisha Jhamb, of Pitt’s Department of Medicine, Jane Liebschutz and Jonathan Yabes, of the Division of General Internal Medicine, and Jennifer Steel, of the Department of Surgery, received $2.8 million to improve pain management in patients with end-stage renal disease who report debilitating pain while on dialysis, which is oftentimes managed poorly and ineffectively with a high prevalence of opioid use. 

Sleep and Circadian-Dependent Mechanisms Contributing to Opiate Use Disorder and Response to Medication-Assisted Treatment: Principal investigator Ryan W. Logan, of Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry received $1.6 million to address sleep and circadian disruptions among people with an opioid use disorder.

Joint Pain on a Chip: Mechanistic Analysis, Therapeutic Targets, and an Empirical Strategy for Personalized Pain Management: Principal investigators Michael Gold, of Pitt’s Department of Neurobiology, and Hang Lin, of Pitt’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, received $1.2 million to study osteoarthritis using the microJoint, a three-dimensional tissue chip developed at Pitt that replicates a human joint on a small scale. 

Long-term Activation of Spinal Opioid Analgesia After Inflammation: Principal investigator Bradley Taylor, of Pitt’s Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, was awarded an additional $400,000 for the final year of a five-year, $3 million grant from the NIH that was originally awarded in 2015 to study natural biological mechanisms of pain relief.

Prevention of Opioid Diversion by Young Adult Patients: Primary and Specialty Care Practices and Perspectives: Principal investigator Brooke S.G. Molina, of Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry, received more than $300,000 to continue research based in primary care that focuses on preventing the misuse and diversion of abusable prescription medications by young adults. 

Investigation of Opioid Exposure and Neurodevelopment: Principal investigators Ashok Panigrahy, of UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and Pitt’s Department of Radiology, Beatriz Luna, of Pitt’s Department of Psychiatry, and Elizabeth E. Krans, of Pitt’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences and Magee-Womens Research Institute, received more than $200,000 as part of an effort with three other universities to design and plan for a large-scale study into the long-term effects of in-utero opioid exposure on neonatal brain development.

“It’s clear that a multi-pronged scientific approach is needed to reduce the risks of opioids, accelerate development of effective non-opioid therapies for pain and provide more flexible and effective options for treating addiction to opioids,” NIH Director Francis S. Collins said in a news release. “This unprecedented investment in the NIH HEAL Initiative demonstrates the commitment to reversing this devastating crisis.”

Find more information about the NIH HEAL grants on UPMC’s website.