The impact of health disparities on patients’ pain outcomes

UF researchers seek to uncover the association between socioeconomic disadvantage and pain outcomes in African Americans

Pain researchers at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville have received new funding to study how genetics may factor into the connection between socioeconomic disadvantage and pain outcomes. The “Impact of Health Disparity and Epigenetic Variability on Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain in African Americans (IMPACT)” is a pilot study to create a biorepository and better understand this association.

The funding comes as part of the annual Dean’s Fund Faculty Research Award through the college’s Office of Research Affairs. Monika Patel, MD, an assistant professor of anesthesiology who specializes in pain medicine, and Sophia Sheikh, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine, are the co-primary investigators of the study.  

As an extension of a larger study, “Neighborhood of Pain – Health Disparity Influence on Level of Chronic Pain Interference (HELP),” the IMPACT study specifically seeks to explore associations between socioeconomic disadvantage and epigenomic modification of genes involved in regulating stress and chronic inflammation.

Epigenomics, also called epigenetics, is a field in which researchers chart the locations of and strive to better understand the functions of the chemical tags that mark the assembly of human DNA, known as the genome. Epigenomics have been studied to determine the lifestyle and environmental factors that may have an association with certain diseases and health conditions, such as pain. IMPACT researchers are interested in the genes previously linked to socioeconomic deprivation and pain, inflammatory response, stress response and the lived environment.

“Our interest in how epigenetics factor into the impact of chronic pain on an individual’s life is driven by the understanding that health disparities, such as racial inequity, can often lead to worse outcomes,” Sheikh said. “We’re seeking to identify the connection and factors that may one day be addressed with precision medicine.”

Interested participants must already be enrolled in the HELP study to qualify for enrollment in IMPACT. Seventy-five participants are being recruited from the Pain Management Center, emergency room and pain management program at the UF Health C.B. McIntosh Center on the UF Health Jacksonville campus.

In addition to the psychosocial evaluations and pain-related surveys, Patel and Sheikh’s team will collect either a blood or saliva sample for laboratory analysis. The analysis will provide a closer look at five genes previously linked to the factors being examined by the study.

In the long term, the results of the IMPACT study will inform future research to identify and provide tailored alternative treatment strategies based on the genetics of pain.  

“We are pleased to extend the successful work we’re engaged in as part of the existing HELP study,” Patel said. “By delving deeper into the epigenomics of pain, we may have a better understanding of how it affects populations differently.”

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