University of New England and MaineHealth collaborate to launch statewide chronic pain registry

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Chronic pain affects millions of individuals globally, including about 400,000 Mainers.

Investigators from the University of New England and MaineHealth — Maine’s largest network of hospitals and health care providers — have received grant support from the Northern New England Clinical and Translational Research Network (NNE-CTR) to establish a comprehensive, statewide chronic pain registry, aimed at advancing epidemiological research and ultimately enhancing health care practices in pain management throughout the state of Maine.

Chronic pain affects millions of individuals globally and remains a significant public health challenge.

Research shows about 30% of Mainers are living with chronic pain. By working together to identify the prevalence of chronic pain throughout the state, investigators from UNE and MaineHealth aim to foster greater research and treatment options for patients suffering from this debilitating condition.

“The goal of the pain registry is to learn about patients’ experiences with chronic pain and their care needs,” remarked Ling Cao, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences within UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, who is spearheading the pilot project. “This registry will not only inform epidemiological research, but it will inform relevant stakeholders to help people get the care they need.”

The collaborative effort will draw on the unique expertise of both institutions to create a robust database that will serve as a tool for epidemiological studies and clinical research. Researchers at UNE are already performing novel studies to identify the molecular basis of chronic pain and to develop non-addictive treatments for pain through gene therapy

“Most patients with chronic pain suffer in silence with limited resources to help them manage their pain,” said John Pier, M.D., vice president for Physician and APP services for the MaineHealth Medical Group. “This study will shine a light on this population and allow us to understand how they are managing their condition and seeking medical intervention, and how the pain impacts their lives. Understanding these patients will help identify better ways to treat and, hopefully, positively impact health care access.”

To become part of the pain registry, adult Mainers living with chronic pain can simply fill out the study survey.

Survey participants will be asked anonymous questions related to their experience with chronic pain, treatments they currently use to relieve their pain, and information about their economic status, housing, education level and more, as research has shown that chronic pain is a complex condition that may be affected by physical, emotional and social factors, Cao said, adding that data collected from the survey will provide researchers with valuable insights into chronic pain patterns, risk factors, and potential interventions.

There are currently no statewide pain registries in Northern New England, Cao said, noting that the project is funded by the NNE- CTR Pilot Projects Program to track 500 participants in its first year. Cao said there will be continuous effort in obtaining additional funding to support this registry.

“We want this registry to continue in perpetuity and for it to grow,” she said. “We envision using this registry to not only advance our understanding of chronic pain but also inform policy around similar public health issues while finding collaborative ways to problem-solve and meet Mainers’ health care needs.”

Learn more about the survey and the pain registry. 

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Ling Cao, M.D., Ph.D.

John Pier, M.D.