Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Mass.

Dr. Anne Louis Oaklander on Pain Research at Massachusetts General Hospital

ByABC News
December 21, 2007, 5:23 PM

— -- My name is Anne Louise Oaklander, M.D., Ph.D. I'm an Associate Professor of Neurology here at Mass General, long one of the leaders in the field of pain management. Surgical anesthesia was first developed at Mass General in the 1840s and opened the door for modern surgery.

More recently, the research group that I direct has made good progress in understanding why some people are left with chronic pain after various injuries that don't seem to affect other people. We showed, for instance, that post-herpetic neuralgia after shingles develops only in patients with the most severe degrees of nerve damage. We and other groups are looking now into ways to lessen this nerve damage and reduce the number of cases of post-herpetic neuralgia. We also have recent publications on complex regional pain syndrome or chronic pain after nerve injury. Our group has shown that this mysterious syndrome is associated with nerve damage to the pain fibers.

Dr. Clifford Woolf directs the basic science pain research at Mass General. He has decades of important research advances. In 2007, he published an exciting new paper in Nature. By combining two existing medications -- one of them lidocaine, which is commonly used for local anesthesia -- he was able to block the muscle-paralyzing effects of lidocaine, and in rats, able to block pain sensations without impeding the rats from walking around normally. If this is able to be developed for use in human patients, it would provide a substantial advance in local anesthesia, a procedure that's used every day in every hospital around the world.