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CTSI Challenge Award

The University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) has presented Dr. Marianne Seney with a Pain Research Challenge Award. The award will support Dr. Seney’s study of a mouse model of comorbid chronic pain and depression/anxiety that is directly informed by human studies.

Several chronic pain conditions have a high rate of comorbidity with psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety. Although patients with psychiatric comorbidities have greater pain and worse treatment outcomes, our understanding of disease mechanisms in the brain is lacking and there is a dearth of brain-based treatment targets. To address this problem, Dr. Seney is working with a multi-disciplinary team of human pain researchers and rodent mood researchers to develop a mouse model of comorbid chronic pain directly informed by human studies. Mouse models allow investigators to study the molecular, genetic, and hormonal mechanisms that underlie alterations in brain activity observed in human patients.  

With funding from the CTSI Pain Research Challenge Award, Dr. Seney and her colleagues, Drs. Ajay Wasan and Andrea Gillman, will combine a mouse model of chronic osteoarthritis pain with the Unpredictable Chronic Mild Stress model, which produces a chronic depressed/anxious state in both male and female mice.  The investigators will then scan brains of these mice using fMRI, drawing a necessary experimental link between observations in human subjects and mice.  The researchers hypothesize that these mice will exhibit brain activity patterns similar to human patients with comorbid chronic pain and depression/anxiety.  Once the mouse model is established, Dr. Seney and her team will use genetically modified mice to examine cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying comorbid chronic pain and depression/anxiety. They can also use unique mouse models to study why some chronic pain conditions affect men and women at different rates and in different ways.  Findings from this research will allow us to better understand chronic pain and may lead to new treatments and therapies for these debilitating conditions.

The Pain Research Challenge Award program is supported by the Virginia Kaufman Endowment Fund and the federal CTSI grant. The awards are designed to facilitate research solutions that address the dynamics of pain, causes and alleviation of pain, and treatment to prevent and/or mitigate pain.