Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Dr. J.C. Gerancher on Pain Research at Wake Forest University

— -- I'm Dr. J.C. Gerancher, and I'm Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Section Head of Regional Anesthesia and Acute Pain Management at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

Researchers in our pain mechanisms lab, regional anesthesiologists, obstetrical anesthesiologists, and neurologists are all working on research that has implications for pain management and chronic pain, in specific. Most of this research deals with pathways and processes that are in place in the human body to process pain -- the chemicals, receptors and neurons that are at work. Offshoots and potential benefits to of this research are: developing pharmaceuticals to treat chronic pain as well as better understanding chronic pain so as to prevent it in the future.

In terms of pharmaceuticals, two of the chemicals that are under investigation at our institution are naturally occurring substances. One is an herbal remedy that's available over the counter that has promise for pain management. The other is a substance secreted by the Pacific Ocean snail, which has been shown to have benefit for chronic pain and pain management. Another substance is a commercially available pharmaceutical agent for Alzheimer's disease which improves memory. This drug is being studied in the treatment of chronic pain.

In addition to investigating new pharmaceutical agents, we're also trying to understand chronic pain better. Once of the interesting avenues we're looking at currently are comparing the pain processing of impulses in the brain in individuals who are addicted to narcotic medicines versus individuals who have chronic pain. By comparing and contrasting these two groups of individuals, we hope to understand better about both.

Another avenue that's under investigation is looking at the interaction of new mothers and their newborn babies, including breast feeding, and how these interactions may protect the mothers from developing chronic pain. This has implications not just for childbirth, but also for surgery and injuries and trauma where chronic pain is much more common than it is in childbirth.