Reader's Digest

MEASURING CHRONIC PAIN

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Relieving pain is a priority of health care, so it’s perhaps surprising that pain assessment is such an inexact science—a patient’s pain is usually self-reported on a scale of one to ten. Now several teams of researcher­s are attempting to develop more objective measuring methods. The studies are looking at a wide variety of sources of pain and ways to track them. A group of Australian scientists discovered that immune cells associated with chronic pain (which is usually related to an underlying condition such as arthritis) have a different natural color from cells in acute pain (usually the result of an injury) or no pain. They developed a blood test that “reads” the color of cells instantly, which might one day allow doctors to determine the severity of pain and tailor treatment accordingl­y. Another blood test, developed by Indiana University School of Medicine researcher­s, not only measures pain severity but also helps match biomarkers in a patient’s blood with potential medication­s. “The biomarker is like a fingerprin­t,” explains study coauthor Alexander Niculescu, MD, PHD, “and we match it against [a prescripti­on] database and see which compound would normalize the signature. We found some compounds [including SC-560, a nonsteroid­al anti-inflammato­ry drug, and pyridoxine, which is vitamin B6] that have been used for decades to treat other things pair the best with the biomarkers.”

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