Breakthrough Blood Test for Pain Could Help Stanch Opioid Crisis

Test Determines Severity of Pain, Helps Physicians Select Best Options

A breakthrough test developed by Indiana University School of Medicine researchers to measure pain could help stem the tide of the U.S. opioid crisis.

A study, just published in Molecular Psychiatry, tracked hundreds of participants to identify biomarkers that can help determine the severity of a patient’s pain. In addition to offering physicians greater accuracy in treating pain, the unique test would provide a better long-term look at the patient’s medical future.

Researchers examined biomarkers in the blood—in this instance, molecules that reflect disease severity. The biomarkers enable doctors to assess the severity of the patient’s pain, and provide treatment in an objective, quantifiable manner.

The blood test also helps physicians match the biomarkers with potential treatment options. Using a prescription database, researchers can match the pain biomarkers with profiles of drugs and natural compounds found in the database. In many cases, the best treatment turns out to be a non-opioid drug or compound.

The opioid epidemic arose from addictive medications being overprescribed because there was no objective measure of whether someone was in pain or how severe their pain was, according to study leader Alexander Niculescu, MD, PhD.

There is a need to treat people in a precise fashion, and the researchers believe their test allows for that. And matching biomarkers with existing medications or compounds would help reduce or eliminate the need for opioids.

In addition, the researchers discovered biomarkers that not only match with non-addictive drugs that treat pain but also indicate whether a person might experience pain in the future.

Based on study data, some biomarkers work better for men and others work better for women. The researchers believe that some could work better for headaches, or fibromyalgia, and other conditions. With future and larger studies, they hope to personalize their approach further, with a view toward a clinical application.

Source: Indiana University School of Medicine, February 13, 2019