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UAB’s New Program Will Change How Chronic Pain is Treated

Woman suffering from chronic pain in AlabamaIf you have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, you already know how hard they can be to explain to others. You may have had friends ask you, “But how exactly does that work? What specifically causes the pain?” While this may feel frustrating, it can be even more frustrating for medical professionals. The fact of the matter is, they don’t understand everything about chronic pain and fatigue syndromes yet either.

These conditions affect over 200,000 individuals in Alabama alone, and many more nation- and worldwide. Luckily for these sufferers, an associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham recently revealed that the best way to end chronic pain and fatigue conditions might be to stop inflammation in the brain.

“We believe that in many cases when someone is suffering from chronic pain or fatigue, they may be suffering from low-level inflammation in their brain,” said Jarred Younger, Ph.D., the associate professor pioneering this study.

Younger’s Talented Team Stares Down Chronic Pain

Younger focuses on neuroinflammatory disorders and already made significant breakthroughs regarding pain and fatigue treatments during his time at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. Now that he is at UAB, he has a primary appointment in the Department of Psychology and secondary appointments both in the Department of Anesthesiology and the Division of Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology.

Younger is brilliant and well-established in the field, and leads an equally talented team. They utilize the latest technologies in immune testing, pharmacology, and neuroimaging to explore why people suffer from chronic fatigue and pain (research that has provided some interesting answers in the past).

Of course, they are also trying to find better ways to treat these conditions as new information presents itself. The talents of team members Luke Parkitny, Ph.D., a researcher in chronic pain immunology, and Joanne Lin, Ph.D., a pharmacist and neuroimaging specialist make this trio’s undertakings potentially life-changing for many.

A New Research Center for Chronic Fatigue and Pain Conditions

Concept for new clinical research center in AlabamaAlabama State Senator Slade Blackwell supports Younger’s team and their mission. In fact, in 2013 he urged Governor Robert Bentley to start a clinical research center that would explore and treat these conditions.

“Having a clinical care and research center in Alabama that addresses these diseases will satisfy an unmet patient need in our area,” Blackwell said.

Younger agrees that the needs of many Alabama residents have not been met in the past. “In many cases, people suffering from chronic pain or fatigue will find that current treatments are just not effective,” he said. “And many treatments are addictive or carry other significant risks. There is, therefore, a great need to develop better treatments.”

The root problem is that there are very few practitioners who specialize in these types of conditions. Alabama currently has no research and clinical care centers that specialize in chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. This is where Younger and UAB come into the picture. Younger seeks to establish a center that combines cutting-edge research and medicine to better understand and treat these disorders.

New Insights and Groundbreaking Discoveries

To kick off this groundbreaking new Birmingham-based project, Younger’s Neuroinflammation, Pain and Fatigue Laboratory will conduct a number of new research projects. The first of these is funded by the National Institutes of Health and will explore how certain chemicals in one’s blood may cause pain and fatigue by overly sensitizing the brain’s immune system.

The team already made a major breakthrough when they discovered that leptin, an inflammatory chemical released by fat tissue, may play a role in these conditions, especially in female patients. They hope to continue discovering new information through subsequent studies of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis), and Gulf War Illness.

“Ultimately, we hope to find objective tests for diagnosis and targets for new treatments so these individuals can get their lives back,” Younger explained. “UAB’s growing interest in these conditions should bring hope to many suffering Alabamians.” We certainly hope it will! If you wish to further follow Younger and his team’s progress, please visit www.uab.edu/cas/psychology for more information and updates.

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