While it is widely appreciated that acute pain is critical for our survival, pathological and persistent pain serves no apparent biological purpose, but has far-reaching impacts on patients and society. For example, the incidence of persistent pain is as high as 20% in Australia, and costs $34.3 billion annually.
The causes of persistent pain are numerous and include peripheral nerve injury, stroke, spinal cord trauma, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer.
Regardless of what initially causes a pathological pain state, studies have highlighted changes to spinal cord nerve cell circuits as a root cause. Unfortunately, these changes remain poorly defined, and this incomplete knowledge stands as a barrier to new and improved pain therapies.
Associate Professor Brett Graham is a Neuroscientist and Chair of the Hunter Medical Research Institute’s Brain Neuromodulation Research Program. He holds an academic position in the School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy at the University of Newcastle where he is Neuroscience Theme Leader. He heads the Spinal Cord Connections Research Group at Newcastle, focussing on a region of the spinal cord that process sensory information, particularly pain. His research uses a range of electrical recording and imaging approaches to study nerve cell circuits and connections, in health and disease and has made a number of discoveries with significant implications for neuropathic pain. This includes nerve cells that act as sensory amplifiers, a nerve cell connection that prevents touch information from activating pain circuits, and most recently a novel nerve cell connection that signals when pain signals are sent to the brain.
Associate Professor Marc Russo is a specialist pain-medicine physician, Director of Hunter Pain Specialists and Co-Director of the Innervate Pain Management Program. He is also the clinical lead and Deputy Chair of the HMRI Brain Neuromodulation Research Program and holds a Conjoint position in the Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy School at the University of Newcastle. In his practice, Associate Professor Russo specialises in the implantation of spinal cord stimulators for the treatment of pain. He has been involved in neuromodulation since 1999 and employs spinal cord, peripheral nerve, occipital, sacral nerve stimulation and intrathecal therapy for both pain and spasticity. He also maintains an active clinical research program, having published 17 neuromodulation studies in the last 2 years. In recognition of this significant expertise Associate Professor Russo is the current president of the International Neuromodulation Society.