The Facial Pain Research Foundation (FRPF) and researchers at the University of Florida (UF) are collaborating to combat a chronic facial pain disorder, trigeminal neuralgia (TN) through translational research such as human imaging and MRI studies to get a better understanding of the mechanisms involved in the debilitating disorder.
“Trigeminal neuralgia is probably the worst pain condition a person could ever have, and we don’t know what causes it,” said John K. Neubert, DDS, PhD, associate professor in the UF College of Dentistry (UFCD) Department of Orthodontics.
“It’s lightning bolt pain going off in your face hundreds of times a day. TN is 10 out of 10 pain, the most pain one can experience. We are thankful for the support of the Facial Pain Research Foundation. They do a lot to fund research for this horrible disease, enabling us to pursue research aimed at a cure,” Neubert said.
FPRF founding trustee Michael Pasternak, PhD, was suffering from trigeminal neuralgia when surgery helped cure his pain. However, UF said, most people aren’t so lucky. Considered a rare disease, TN occurs most often in people over the age of 50, with 12 new cases per 100,000 people per year, according to the National Institute of Health.
The FPRF was founded by Pasternak and six other professionals across the United States who created the first international consortium of scientists from 14 US universities and two international institutions to work together to cure TN.
The foundation funds the most innovative research projects aimed at finding a cure to end the electric shock-line pain caused by irritation of the trigeminal nerve, whose branches extend to the forehead, cheek, and lower jaw, UF said.
The FPRF has no employees. All monies raised through grassroots fundraising efforts coast to coast in the United States and overseas go straight toward TN research.
“The money we raise has character,” Pasternak said. “It has dignity and heart.”
The FPRF is funding two UFCD researchers, Neubert and Robert M. Caudle, PhD, for more than $330,000 this year toward research projects to investigate TN.
“People overuse the word hero, but these guys are heroes. They are outstanding scientists,” Pasternak said.
Neubert and colleagues at UF’s McKnight Brain Institute have been looking at preclinical models with trigeminal nerve pain and then comparing those models with human imaging and MRI studies of people who have TN. The imaging studies are designed to help researchers determine where the pain originates.
“We have a couple of interesting and exciting findings from our neuroimaging studies that may give us some insight into what’s causing TN,” Neubert said. “We look forward to publishing those findings.”
Caudle also is working with colleagues at the McKnight Brain Institute to test novel treatments for TN with an overall end goal of a cure for TN pain.
Translational research continues, incorporating integrated techniques with both human and preclinical models and cross-country partnerships like a new academic, private company partnership between Neubert and Cory Nicholas, PhD, founder and chief executive officer at Neurona Therapeutics.
“I like the fact that we can try different things to see how it works,” said Neubert, the 2015-2016 UFCD Basic Sciences Teacher of the Year.
“I’ve been treating pain patients for over 20 years now, and so you learn a lot from talking to the patients that you just can’t get from a petri dish with cells on it, or from a preclinical model. I feel fortunate that I can do both the clinical care and research because I learn a lot from both sides,” Neubert said.
“We typically think of translation going from an idea, to a molecule, to a cell model, to an animal model, to a person. There’s also reverse translation that is just as important for discovering new treatments for patients,” Neubert said.