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Purdue Pharma LP Supports Pain Assessment Research

March 1, 2018
Manufacturer aims to help healthcare providers better understand chronic pain through a series of research grants

Purdue Pharma LP (Stamford, CT) is supporting investigator-initiated research on the development of clinically relevant tools to assist in the assessment of chronic pain. Through a series of three new grants, the company hopes to contribute new scientific information on how cognitive functioning, virtual reality, and electroencephalograph alpha activity may potentially be utilized as part of pain assessment.

“The accurate assessment of levels of pain experienced by patients is important in: making a correct diagnosis, indicating appropriate therapy, and studying responses to treatment,” explained Monica Kwarcinski, PharmD, head of Medical Affairs at Purdue Pharma. “While acute pain may be accompanied by measurable responses, such as changes in vital signs, chronic pain is based on self-reporting. Pain levels are frequently assessed using a variety of patient-reported rating scales. These scales are used to establish baselines, assess response to analgesic treatment in clinical practice, and as evidence of efficacy in clinical trials. Purdue Pharma LP is supporting research to identify new and innovative and objective methods to assess chronic pain.”

Planned Assessment Studies

The three grant projects include:

  • “Development and application of an objective measure of pain-related interference with cognition,” led by Robert R. Edwards, PhD, a clinical psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Pain Management Center in Boston. The goal is to develop and apply an objective measure of pain-related interference with cognitive performance in patients with fibromyalgia. 

  • “Study on the use of virtual reality for pain measurement,” led by Tassilo Baeuerle, president and chief executive officer of CognifiSense, a virtual reality therapeutics company based in California. The study will test the potential use of virtual reality (VR) technology as a clinically relevant/useful tool in the assessment of chronic pain, including exploration of movement and other metrics to assess pain intensity. 

  • “Development of a reliable neurophysiological pain 
assessment tool: alpha as a predictive biomarker,” led by David A. Seminowicz, PhD, who leads the Pain Imaging Lab at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in Baltimore. The goal is to determine the predictive accuracy, reliability, and specificity of electroencephalograph alpha activity in acute pain and a model of neuropathic pain in healthy subjects.

The grant recipients have commenced research, with results from Dr. Seminowicz’s and Mr. Baeuerle’s work expected later in 2018, while Dr. Edwards’ research is expected to span two years with completion in 2019. Practical Pain Management spoke to both Dr. Edwards and Mr. Baeuerle about their work. (Dr. Seminowicz was unavailable for comment.)

A sample pain scaleA sample pain scale

Connecting Cognitive Function and Pain

With regard to the cognitive study focused on fibromyalgia, Dr. Edwards said his team intends to “refine and validate a brief battery of computer-based cognitive tasks that can be used as an objective measure of cognitive function.” By evaluating associations between pain, mood, and cognition in patients with fibromyalgia, the team plans to explore the inter-relations between these domains in the context of a treatment study. “For example, we are investigating whether treatments that improve mood also reduce pain, and whether this reduction in pain results in improvements in cognitive function,” he said.

Fibromyalgia was selected, in particular, based on its common symptoms of memory impairment, concentration difficulty, along with accompanying muscle and joint pain. By assessing this combination of symptoms, Dr. Edwards said he hopes the “field will move toward making comprehensive multimodal assessment a standard of care. Such assessment protocols would, of course, include patient-reported pain, but might also include subjective and objective assessments of cognitive function, sleep, physical activity, etc.”

Testing VR’s Capability in Pain Quantification

The exploratory CognifiSense study aims to evaluate the potential of virtual reality in measuring chronic pain with minimal or zero reliance on patient self-report. Researchers will look at the relationship between human motion (performance) and chronic pain, and the capabilities of commercially available VR equipment in tracking this human motion and performance using specially designed VR applications, explained Mr. Baeuerle. A secondary component of the study will examine movement and its relation to pain.

“We are exploring a variety of movement parameters and dynamics, based on the capabilities and limitations of VR technologies,” said Mr. Baeuerle. “The goal is to determine which of these parameters and dynamics shows the most promise for predicting different levels of chronic pain. If successful, the study could lay the foundation for further research, with the ultimate goal being to develop a standardized set of VR applications, which can be run on commercially available applications, to objectively quantify pain.”

CognifiSense has separately developed a proprietary technology aimed at creating a lasting reduction in chronic pain by addressing the neuropsychological components underlying chronic pain. Called VR-Therapy, the technology is essentially an experiential learning system that leverages immersive VR training, self-distancing, self-efficacy, and fear-extinction tools to correct the maladaptive learning processes that drive pain chronification. VR Neuro-Therapy is in the early clinical developmental stages and is not yet commercially available.

Looking ahead, Mr. Baeuerle believes VR will likely have multiple uses in healthcare, from an educational tool to train physicians, to digital therapies used in clinics, hospitals, and the home. “Within pain management, we see several potential directions,” he said. “Virtual reality distraction therapies, which are primarily fun video games or experiences aimed at refocusing the patient’s mind away from pain or painful procedures, will likely be used within various clinical settings to provide short-term relief from acute pain and anxiety.”

Other therapies, such as relaxation or meditation apps, may seek to provide relaxation and training for patients in the hospital or home setting, he noted. Finally, digital therapies, such as VR Neuro-Therapy, aimed at retraining the brain and addressing underlying neuropsychological components of chronic pain are expected.


“Overall, Purdue Pharma hopes the three studies’ outcomes may contribute new scientific information to support chronic pain patients and the healthcare professionals that manage their care,” said Dr. Kwarcinski.



Last updated on: March 1, 2018
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