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USU Biobank Helps Give Insight into Chronic Pain

A man who appears to be in pain. There are gloved hands on the man's shoulder.

By Vivian Mason

Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons adults seek medical care. About 25 million Americans experience chronic pain that interferes with their daily life activities, and it’s a component of many chronic conditions, emerging as a concern on its own with many negative consequences to individuals and their families, according to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

But it’s been a challenge to understand the effects of biological, psychological, and social mechanisms of pain, and their effects on future responses to pain, given the time-consuming nature of collecting such data from the longitudinal studies that are needed. To help with this effort and to ultimately better understand chronic pain, the Pain Registry Biobank was established about a year ago by USU’s Defense and Veterans Center for Integrative Pain Management (DVCIPM), a Department of Defense (DoD) Center of Excellence.  

A woman appears to be in pain
The Pain Registry Biobank is a clinical data registry and tissue biobank
used as a resource for pain-related interdisciplinary research endeavors.
[Image credit: U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt
The biobank focuses entirely on pain management. It’s a clinical data registry and tissue biobank used as a resource for pain-related interdisciplinary research endeavors. It’s used to collect, catalog, process, store, maintain, and distribute biological material, or biospecimens, taken from the human body (e.g. tissues, blood, plasma, etc), along with associated data for use in research and clinical care.

When combined with patient-reported outcomes and medical health record data, this registry also presents valuable resource efforts to accelerate pain research. The biobank can also be used for more detailed study into the genetic and environmental factors also associated with pain.

Since the Civil War, the DoD has maintained biobanks/biorepositories and used those stored materials to expand understanding of diseases and develop medical countermeasures. Today, The Pain Registry Biobank addresses the complexity of pain using data from the PASTOR (Pain Assessment Screening Tool and Outcomes Registry) assessment battery. This also includes several PROMIS (Patient Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System) scales developed by the National Institutes of Health that span the physical, psychological, social, and behavioral aspects of pain and pain-related treatments.

The biobank includes data obtained from DEERS (Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System)-eligible individuals, with and without pain, who qualified for care in the Military Health System. 

“This broad inclusion criteria offers the potential to link patient-reported outcomes, medical history, and biological samples across a diverse range of clinical populations,” said DVCIPM senior scientist Dr. Peter Bedocs, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at USU.

Eligible individuals are recruited from clinical settings in military treatment facilities:  Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Naval Medical Center San Diego. DVCIPM also plans to deploy its third recruitment site at USU. 

Participants must complete the PASTOR assessment battery and provide biospecimens (blood and saliva) four times during the first year of participation and annually thereafter. Additional medical record data are extracted and merged with participant-reported and biospecimen data.

The PASTOR data, matched with biological samples, allows researchers to use the biobank as a resource to address research gaps and enhance healthcare for service members, veterans, and civilians. After patients enroll in the program, data are collected from participants in a longitudinal fashion every three months over a 15-month period and annually thereafter, or until a patient chooses to leave the study. They also use DVCIPM’s Defense and Veterans Pain Rating Scale.

A man stands next to a poster board about the Pain Registry Biobank
Bobby Kroma, research assistant with USU's School of Medicine, presents the Pain Registry Biobank at a seminar. [Image credit: Defense and Veterans
Center for Integrative Pain Management]

Once up and running at the university, USU students will also be able to participate in the Pain Registry Biobank by donating samples and completing survey questions that relate to pain and general body functioning. Then, the biobank will contain data as well as blood and saliva samples collected from patients at the three sites. Researchers with ground-breaking ideas and approved protocols may then request access to the resources of the biobank, and work toward future DNA/RNA and proteomics (protein expression patterns) analysis. 

Since it was established, 72 participants (between the ages of 18 and 80 years old) have enrolled in the biobank. Of those, 81 percent have completed their first follow-up surveys and biospecimen collections. Approximately 2,000 samples have also been processed and stored for future research use. To maintain biospecimen integrity, biobank personnel have developed stringent quality assurance and quality control protocols as part of an ongoing monitoring process. 

The Pain Registry Biobank will continue to serve as a key research tool and provide an opportunity to significantly decrease the resources and time required to conduct pain research. In the future, as a result of this data, physicians may be better able to customize medical evaluations, recommendations, and treatment plans for patients.