Håkan Olausson. Photo credit Mikael Sjöberg Textbooks on neurology (the diseases of nerves) state that nerve signals for pain always travel more slowly than the signals that detect skin touch. But pioneering research by Håkan Olausson’s research group has shown that this is not the case. They recently discovered that humans have an ultrarapid pain-signalling system that transmits signals to the brain just as rapidly as the nerve cells that mediate touch. The scientists now plan to map this pain-signalling system in detail.Håkan Olausson. Photo credit Thor Balkhed
“This research grant makes it possible for us to investigate the clinical significance of the rapid pain system that we recently discovered in healthy people. I plan to investigate its significance for the diagnosis of chronic pain and the treatment of various pain conditions. The grant gives long-term support for five years, which means that we have sufficient time to work on the project”, says Håkan Olausson, professor in the Department of Biomedical and Clinical Sciences, and consultant in clinical neurophysiology at Linköping University Hospital.
The researchers hope to be able to answer questions such as how the ultrarapid pain system reacts to pinpricks, heat and cold; how the nerve signals are conducted in the spinal cord and the brain; and how chronic pain arises. And most importantly: is it possible to stop the pain signals? It is possible that the research will contribute in the long term to new treatments that do not have the dangerous undesired effects that current opiate-based drugs have in some patients.
In addition to Håkan Olausson, three other physicians who also conduct research share the Wallenberg Clinical Scholars research grants, namely Anca Catrina and Mikael Rydén, both at Karolinska Institutet, and Åsa Petersén, at Lund University. These grants are made by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, which has put a total of SEK 600 million into the Wallenberg Clinical Scholars programme to reinforce Swedish clinical research. A total of 24 clinicians active in research have now received funds, and the programme will transition to its extension phase. This means that individuals who have previously been appointed as clinical scholars can be nominated by their home university to receive continuation grants.
Translation by George Farrants