Skip to main content

Investment in pain research to achieve improved treatments

Pain is a symptom of many conditions but can also be a difficult to treat disease in itself. Thanks to a donation in 2017 of SEK 30 million from entrepreneur Leif Lundblad, researchers at Karolinska Institutet are now able to make a major effort to break the lasting grip of pain.

Photo: Erik Cronberg

Musculoskeletal chronic pain affects some 10 to 20 per cent of the population and is the second most common reason for long-term sickleave. Even if the original cause is successfully treated, many people continue to suffer from chronic pain. When pain persists like this, it changes its nature and becomes a disease in its own right, and one for which there is currently no efficient treatment. Pain researchers at Karolinska Institutet have now teamed up for a unique, three-year long translational research program with the goal to increase the knowledge about and find new therapeutic methods for chronic pain. The project is made possible by a SEK 30 million donation from Leif Lundblad with family.

With chronic pain, such as that arising from the muscles or back, it is common for the pain signals to become amplified by the nerve system and the brain. The researchers believe that this causes a feedback loop, establishing a pain memory that can remain even when the source of the pain has healed and is no longer transmitting pain signals. Knowledge of these mechanisms opens the way for potential new approaches to the treatment of pain.

“Chronic pain is a public health problem where there is a major demand for more research to be done,” says Professor Eva Kosek of Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Clinical Neuroscience, who will be leading the project with her departmental colleague Dr Karin Jensen and Dr Camilla Svensson of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. “This donation will hopefully bring us a little closer to making real improvements for these patients.”

A recent study of pain care in Sweden conducted by a task force set up by the National Coordination Group for Knowledge Managemen (NSK) pinpoints severe flaws in the system, such as inadequate competence and unwarranted differences in the care and treatment of patients with chronic pain.

“One of the problems is that the healthcare sector has insufficient understanding of pain mechanisms, which makes it hard for doctors to choose treatments that work,” says Professor Kosek. “They need clear and definitive instructions from researchers, which we will now have better possibilities to provide.”

“It feels crucial that we get to help people suffering from chronic pain, and for us it is particularly important to support research conducted using different approaches,” says donor Leif Lundblad, entrepreneur and inventor.

The researchers are now planning to study the brains of patients and healthy people in order to uncover the early markers of chronic pain and susceptibility factors before the first symptoms arise. They will also be examining how the nerve and immune systems interact in chronic pain and what role heredity plays.

In doing this, the team hopes to contribute to personalized pain treatment and the identification of substances that can be used for future drug development. The researchers have already shown that certain inflammatory substances play a key part for chronic pain in rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, and now plan to study whether the blocking of such a substance can be an effective mechanism for treating fibromyalgia.

“Chronic pain is a major public health problem,” says Karin Dahlman Wright, Acting Vice-Chancellor at Karolinska Institutet. “The Lundblad family donation provides extremely valuable reinforcement to a research field that has the potential to improve the quality of life of so many people.”

It is possible that the funding provided by the Lundblad family will be extended by a further two years to the equivalent of SEK 20 million.

About Leif Lundblad

Leif Lundblad is an entrepreneur and inventor. He has filed over 300 patents and started a dozen companies, the most successful to date being Inter Innovation, which was based on his bank-note dispensing mechanism for ATM machines. He has received several prizes and awards, including the Royal Academy of Engineering Sciences’ (IVA) Gold Medal, the Sysselsättningspriset, the Guldkuggen prize and the Royal Patriotic Society’s Enterprise Medal for Outstanding Entrepreneurship, and is a former member of the IVA’s business council and of the board of the Swedish Industrial Development Fund.

About the researchers:

Eva Kosek is Professor of clinical pain research at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, and Senior Physician at the Stockholm Spine Center. Her research group focuses on the role of the nervous system in the onset and maintenance of chronic musculoskeletal pain.

Dr Karin Jensen is a researcher at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet. Her research focuses on how the brain processes pain signals and what causes the placebo effect.

Dr Camilla Svensson is a researcher at the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Karolinska Institutet. Her research group focuses on the molecular and immunological mechanisms of chronic joint pain.