NYU Pain Research Center Presents Inaugural Symposium: Signaling the Future of Pain Research and Treatment



The inaugural symposium of the NYU Pain Research Center, held on March 7, 2023 at the NYU Kimmel Center, featured research presentations by prominent American and Canadian pain scientists. The NYU Pain Research Center (NYUPRC), located at the NYU College of Dentistry, was established in 2022 to marshal development of innovative pain research initiatives; much of this work will be directed at novel therapies and drug delivery systems for treating pain without the use of opioid medications. This research trajectory is intended to address the national opioid crisis. The day’s presentations included a talk by Dr. Rena D’Souza, director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), part of the National Institutes of Health. The full agenda can be viewed here.

NYU College of Dentistry Dean Charles N. Bertolami welcomed the audience and spoke about the five-year trajectory that led to the opening of the NYUPRC last year. “The establishment of the NYU Pain Research Center and the occasion of this symposium could not be timelier,” he said. “The objective — to develop improved treatment strategies for pain as well as alternatives to opioids for treating chronic pain — is a truly noble aspiration. Since 2000, opioids have caused half a million deaths in the United States. NYU Dentistry couldn’t be more pleased to be the home of the NYU Pain Research Center, which is poised to produce transformational research that will ultimately save lives and reduce health care costs for our nation,” he added.

Dean Bertolami congratulated the chief conceptual architects of the NYUPRC, Dr. Brian Schmidt, senior vice dean for research development and academic affairs at NYU Dentistry, who has been responsible for focusing the College’s research portfolio on pain, and Dr. Nigel Bunnett, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Pathobiology and assistant dean for research development at NYU Dentistry, who proposed the idea for a pain center to consolidate and build on the strengths of all of the College’s pain researchers and aid in recruitment of new pain researchers. Dean Bertolami also recognized and thanked Dr. Rajesh Khanna and Dr. Kara Margolis, both internationally known leaders in pain research, who serve as the Center's director and associate director, respectively, for their inspiring leadership.

Dr. Khanna noted that one in four people worldwide suffer with chronic pain, which is the leading cause of disease burden in the world, and which, in the U.S., accounts for annual economic losses of $600 billion. He also noted that chronic pain patients often wait more than seven years just to be diagnosed, and even then, treatments work in only one in eight people. The NYUPRC’s mission is to change this situation by transforming our understanding of nervous system signaling; hence, the Center's motto: “Signaling the future of pain research and treatment." This transformation will advance pain treatments; address social, racial, sex, gender, rural, and lifespan disparities in pain treatment and management; increase industry, NIH, and philanthropic funding for pain research and management; and engage the community, dentists, clinicians, researchers, and trainees.

Pain research underway at the Center was highlighted. The research of many NYU Dentistry scientists was noted, including Dr. Bunnett’s work with G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) and receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) signaling of pain; Dr. Alex Thomsen’s investigations into the physiological roles of endosomal G protein signaling by internalized GPCRs; Dr. Dane Jensen’s focus on the role of GPCR signaling in itch sensory pathways from the skin to the central nervous system, and therapeutics to treat chronic pruritus; Dr. May Khanna’s investigations targeting protein-protein interactions for therapeutics; Dr. Donna Albertson’s lab, which uses ‘omics technologies and spatial profiling to study oral cancers and the reciprocal communication between cancers and the microenvironment; Dr. Yi Ye’s research on peripheral nerve-tumor interaction in cancer and associated neuropathies; Dr. Brian Schmidt’s studies of the neurobiological mechanisms responsible for oral cancer pain; and Dr. Kara Margolis’s prospective and population-based studies, including effects of maternal SSRI use on the development of disorders of gut-brain interaction and mood, and the role of multi-biotic consortia in treating abdominal pain.

In their important efforts to foster pain research, NYU Dentistry leaders seek to find medical solutions and promote research on alternatives to opioids for chronic pain treatment. “We are so gratified by the response to today’s symposium,” noted Dean Bertolami, “which affirms the importance of the work being done at the NYU Pain Research Center.” The NYUPRC is currently recruiting up to five additional primary faculty, as well as affiliate members from across NYU.