NIH Grant to Fund Study on Inflammation in Back Pain

By Staff

A new study has been funded by the National Institutes of Helath’s (NIH) National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) to explore the role of inflammation in back pain, specifically in degenerative disc diseases of the spine.

The $1.8 million grant was awarded to scientist Nadeen Chahine, PhD from the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and will last for five years.

The study will look into interactions of molecules and receptors to determine what triggers degenerative intervertebral discs (IVD) in the spine, causing debilitating pain in the lower back, buttocks and thighs.  The rubber discs in the spine of those with IVD begin to shrink and lose their structural integrity, which causes the pain.  Today, IVD is normally treated with physical medicine, pain medication or surgery, but none of these treatments completely eliminate the pain.

Dr. Chahine’s study, “Mechanobiology of Inflammation in Intervertebral Disc,” will follow the high mobility group box 1 (HMGB1) molecule, which is a protein expressed by dying or stressed cells.  Dr. Chahine believes that this protein could be a trigger for inflammation and disc degeneration.

“Disability and pain stemming from degenerated intervertebral discs affects more than 40 percent of adults in the US and costs more than $100 billion annually,” said Dr. Chahine, a biomedical engineer, whose research is specific to understanding how inflammation changes the disc’s ability to bear load.  If proven correct, her research could lead to alternate treatments to slow down or possibly reverse the degeneration of spinal discs.

“I’m extremely grateful for NIAMS’ support to embark on this study, which brings together bioengineers, clinicians and biologists to explore a unique combination of inflammation and mechanobiology in this common condition that is understudied,” she said. “It is our hope that this study will get us closer to a treatment of disc degeneration.”

“Dr. Chahine is an extraordinary investigator, leading innovative research and this NIH support is an important step to improve the lives of patients,” said Dr. Kevin J. Tracey, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute.

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