July 7, 2008
IC Directors
Kerry Brink, Assistant to the Deputy Director, NIH
IC Directors’ Meeting Highlights – May 8, 2008

Discussion: Reconsideration of Roadmap Proposals

I. NIH Pain Consortium: Centers of Excellence for Pain Research: Defining the Transition to Chronic Pain, Dr. Lawrence Tabak, Director, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)

Dr. Tabak expressed that the scientific goal of this Roadmap proposal is to develop a “pain fingerprint” to identify an individual’s risk for transitioning to a chronic pain state. The pain fingerprint is a set of biochemical, behavioral, cognitive, genetic, psychological, and social factors that characterize an individual’s:

  • Susceptibility to chronic pain;
  • Transition to chronic pain;
  • Therapeutic response.

Dr. Tabak explained that susceptibility to chronic pain involves age, ethnicity, gender, genetics, physiology and psychological state. Transition to chronic pain is not as well understood — some chronic pain states evolve gradually from an apparent healthy state, while others evolve from a clearly identifiable insult. The goal is to identify why some people transition and others do not, and target those most likely to transition so they can be treated preemptively. Current practice of therapeutic response targets the condition with a largely trial and error process. The future goal is to intervene before chronicity is established.

The NIH Pain Consortium was established to enhance pain research and promote collaboration among researchers across NIH Institutes and Centers. Currently, NIH spends ~$200 million per year in pain research. The proposal for $20 million in Roadmap funding will be essential to integrate research findings across multiple chronic pain conditions, elevate the stature of pain research and engage researchers beyond the traditional community. The proposed structure is to establish three to four Centers of Excellence for fingerprint discovery to address multiple disorders including “orphan” conditions.

IC Directors commented on the importance of providing opportunity to elevate the level of pain research, to increase commonality of interest, as well as, to focus on orphan conditions which fall outside the traditional research community.

II. Functional Variation in Mitochondria and Disease, Dr. John Niederhuber, Director, National Cancer Institute (NCI)

Dr. Niederhuber expressed that the Functional Variation of Mitochondria and Disease Project will provide the tools and scientific foundation for future studies to understand the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of a broad array of common and rare diseases. It will provide the basis to develop diagnostics and therapeutics for both inherited and acquired mitochondrial disorders.

Goals of the project are to:

  • Develop tools to measure mitochondrial function in vivo;
  • Develop methods to perturb mitochondrial function;
  • Assess the normal variation in mitochondria within cells and between tissues.

Dr. Niederhuber explained that the problem is important because primary mitochondrial diseases are extremely difficult to diagnose, treatments are inadequate, and mitochondrial dysfunction has been associated with many chronic diseases. The project will develop research tools to measure and perturb mitochondrial functions in vivo and in culture, re-engineer mitochondrial DNA, as well as, establish diagnostic tools to rapidly assess mitochondrial function and identify patients with mitochondrial dysfunction. Variation will be assessed according to the functional and structural variability in mitochondria within and between cells and tissues, and the integration and analysis of mitochondrial genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic information.

Dr. Niederhuber reported that the proposal is transformative as it will lead to:

  • Research in patients with known mtDNA mutations;
  • Elucidation of tissue specific effects of mitochondrial dysfunction;
  • Development of animal models of mitochondrial disease;
  • Assessment of treatment efficacy (e.g., antioxidants);
  • New diagnostics.

IC Directors commented on the complexity of the problem and the need to focus research to understand the variation.

Kerry Brink
Cc: OD Small Staff

This page was last reviewed on July 8, 2008 .
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