BioWorld International Correspondent

LONDON - The Wellcome Trust has awarded £5 million (US$9.4 million) to a consortium of researchers to investigate new treatments for chronic pain based on whole genome studies that will search for gene targets and biomarkers.

The award, to the London Pain Consortium, will be boosted by £1 million from the institutions involved, which are Imperial College London, King's College London, University College London and Oxford University.

One of the researchers, Andrew Rice at Imperial, said that the last two decades has seen huge advances in understanding the biological processes that underpin chronic pain.

"But the excitement and optimism of the laboratory is tempered by the stark reality of the clinic," he said, adding that despite advances in understanding how pain is processed in the body, there has been little progress in translating that into better treatments.

Chronic pain affects one in five adults. According to a patients' lobby group the European Pain Network, those afflicted suffer on average for seven years, with an estimated 500 million working days, costing €34 billion (US$48.8 billion) a year, lost in Europe as a result.

The London Pain Consortium was set up five years ago, with the backing of the Wellcome Trust, the world's largest medical charity. The new money will support a range of cross-disciplinary studies, spanning bioinformatics and molecular biology through to clinical trials that will deploy functional imaging and genetic screening.

Working with the Wellcome Trust's DNA sequencing center at the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, the researchers plan to carry out genomewide association studies to plot how genetic variation between individuals affects the evolution of chronic pain and sensitivity to analgesics.

"This award will allow [us] to identify the genes that control the volume control on pain," said Steve McMahon science director of the consortium, who is based at King's College London.

Meanwhile, the functional brain imaging group, led by Irene Tracey at Oxford University, will use functional magnetic resonance imaging to look for subtle changes in human brain activity related to pain perception, and to explore widespread changes within the central nervous system that lead to the development and maintenance of chronic pain states.

That work is expected to provide novel targets as well as biomarkers to assess different treatments.

Since it was set up in 2002, the London Pain Consortium has developed a number of new animal and human models for pain and has published more than 280 scientific papers.

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