Texas Advanced Computing Center receives grant to study chronic pain, opioid

Jennifer Xia

The Texas Advanced Computing Center will receive part of a National Institutes of Health grant designed to explore chronic pain and opioid dependence.

According to UT News, the center will receive $2.3 million over four years to study how biological characteristics in humans help indicate who is at risk for chronic pain. The center will also provide the cyberinfrastructure that houses the collected data and information.

The first project will look at 1,800 patients with acute pain associated with knee replacements, according to UT News. The center will use neuroimaging, biomedical measurements, sensory testing and psychosocial assessments to analyze patient pain and provide better treatment.

David Ring, associate dean for comprehensive care and professor of surgery and psychiatry, said nociception is the actual tissue damage caused by injury where pain is based on thoughts and emotions. He said this might explain why some people become more opioid dependent than others.

“What you’ll notice is that people experience extremely variable amounts of pain for a given nociception,” Ring said. “They want that answer to be something passive outside of themselves, that will be an answer directly to the physical problem … That’s where the opioids come in.”

The center will develop a web interface that provides access to analytic tools and public and private data sets which will be used to impact future clinical trials and treatments, according to UT News. The center has already built cloud computing portals for other collaborations, such as DesignSafe, a platform for natural hazards research.

“Having a better understanding of the biochemical and neurological adaptations associated with pain will allow treatment researchers to develop more effective treatments and prevention strategies for chronic pain and addiction,” said Kasey Claborn, assistant professor of psychiatry.

Claborn said people with chronic pain may be physiologically dependent on opioids but may not have an addiction. 

“It may be a sign that the person is at high risk for developing an addiction,” Claborn said. “Other risk factors include genetic predisposition, family history of addiction and other psychosocial factors.”

Ring said by avoiding difficult discussions related to mental and social health, people are being mistreated with opioids.