Research by COM students and alumni published in medical journal

Seth Butler
Fourth year COM student Seth Butler worked on the research project

Research on pain sensitivity conducted by two University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNECOM) students and four alumni is now published in Pain Medicine, a well-respected, multi-disciplinary journal dedicated to clinicians, educators, and researchers with an interest in pain.

“Evaluation of Using the Sphygmomanometer Test to Assess Pain Sensitivity in Chronic Pain Patients vs Normal Controls” is a research project started a few years ago that was passed on from pairs of UNECOM students until its completion.

“We did a sphygmomanometer test, which is a sensory test that measures an individual’s response to pressure using a standard blood pressure cuff,” said Seth Butler (D.O., ’21), one of the researchers. “We examined the feasibility of using the sphygmomanometer test with chronic pain patients to test their threshold for pain compared to an everyday, healthy person.”

Existing tests that measure pain can be expensive, with some requiring special equipment and training. The researchers were interested in finding out if a blood pressure cuff could be used instead by measuring a patient’s reaction to the pressure it creates.

“We wanted to see if a standard blood pressure cuff could be used as an alternative because every primary care clinic has a blood pressure cuff,” Butler explained. “We measured the time it takes until someone has the sensation of pain, not when you cannot withstand the pain, just the moment you have the sensation of pain.”

Healthy subjects and chronic pain patients were recruited for the study. Researchers found that the chronic pain patients

had significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety, and fatigue, but they did not find a difference between the chronic pain group and the healthy subject group when it comes to general pain sensitivity measured at the arm that was not affected by respective chronic pain conditions.

Further, unlike other pain sensitivity tests used, the test using the blood pressure cuff did not seem to be affected by other psychological factors, such as depression and anxiety in patients with chronic pain.

“This could be a potential advantage of this test,” Butler commented. “An independent measurement for pain would be a great asset for patient care.”

Butler says he was thrilled to see the research published in a leading medical journal.

“This is going on nine years of research for me and this is my first study ever published, so it's pretty awesome to see,” he said.

Liem Nguyen (D.O., ’21), Ross Heinrich, D.O., ’20, David Shbeeb, D.O., ’20, Kyle Draleau, D.O., ’19, Daniel Sigalovsky, D.O., ’19, conducted the research with Butler.

The researchers worked under Ling Cao, M.D., Ph.D. professor of immunology, and alongside Stephen Hull, M.D., at Northern Light Mercy Pain Center.

Ling Cao
Ling Cao