About 50 million Americans experience chronic pain. For many, the pain involves the muscle and the fascia surrounding it, creating myofascial pain with trigger points. This chronic pain syndrome significantly affects patients’ daily functioning and quality of life. While there are treatments, including physical therapy, non-opioid and opioid medications and trigger point injections, adequately controlling this pain is challenging due to the lack of objective and quantitative pain biomarkers.
Song Hu, PhD and Yong Wang, PhD, both researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, plan to develop a set of novel imaging biomarkers of myofascial pain with a first-phase, three-year $2.3 million technology development and observational clinical study grant from the National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of the Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative, which provides funding for researchers to address opioid misuse.
Hu, an associate professor of biomedical engineering, will bring expertise in fiber-optic imaging and sensing, while Wang, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the School of Medicine and of electrical and systems engineering, will focus on MRI and surface electromyography. Together, they will obtain objective biomarkers, including muscle structure, stiffness, oxygenation, blood flow, metabolism and electrical activity, in three states: healthy, latent pain and active pain.