Yale researchers study gender differences in pain treatment outcomes

The Women’s Health Research Team will study the interactions between gender, pain, and treatment outcomes for opioid use disorders.


Contributing journalist


Emily cai

The Women’s Health Research Center at the Yale School of Medicine has funded a new study to investigate gender differences in clinical outcomes for the treatment of pain and for the treatment of opioid use disorders.

The center funds research on human health because it differs by sex and gender and communicates research results to policy makers and the general public so that they can be put into practice. Principal investigators on the study include Sarah Yip, assistant professor of psychiatry and director of the Yale Imaging and Psychopharmacology Lab; Sarah Lichenstein, associate professor of psychiatry and Declan Barry, associate professor of psychiatry. The team will use a new brain mapping technique to find the neural pathways responsible for feeling pain and stopping that pain when a person uses opioids. Unlike previous studies, this research will aim to identify how these formations of neural pathways differ by gender.

“Chronic pain is common in women and research suggests gender differences in clinical outcomes for the treatment of pain and for the treatment of opioid use disorders,” Yip wrote in an e -mail to News. “However, we know very little about the interactions between biological sex, pain, and treatment outcomes in opioid use disorder.”

According to Rick Harrison, the centre’s communications manager, the study is timely and relevant because 70 percent of Americans with chronic pain are women. In addition, women are disproportionately exposed to opioids in the treatment of pain and are more likely to become dependent on these drugs.

Although the study is ongoing, the team hopes to identify treatment targets for substance use based on how the brains of women and men process rewards differently. Researchers hope to be able to identify those most likely to relapse and provide those at risk with additional resources such as substance use prevention counselors.

“The current standard of drug treatment often involves multiple failed attempts,” Yip said in a report. maintenance submitted to the Innovations in Women’s Health newsletter. “Identifying the people who need it most and designing the treatments best suited to their individual needs would save money in the long run. Most importantly, women are suffering and science can show us how to help them. “

Lichenstein noted that the study builds on previous research with predictive modeling based on the connectome – a map of neural connections in the brain. Connectome-based predictive modeling is a data-driven protocol. First, the researchers create a predictive model by examining a training dataset of brain images and behaviors. Then they try to find connections between the training dataset to predict the same behavior in the test dataset.

Lichenstein adds that there are challenges inherent in this research, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Recruiting and retaining this patient population in research can be difficult, especially in light of the increased challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lichtenstein wrote via email. She underlined the difficulties of employment, transport and childcare.

The study is longitudinal, which means that it will take place over a long period of time. Study leaders will follow participants for up to a year after their initial brain imaging. While Lichenstein cited participant retention as a challenge of longitudinal work, she said similar studies she conducted have always been successful in overcoming this challenge.

NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health Director Janine Clayton, explained the importance of scientific research that considers sex and gender in a maintenance with Carolyn M. Mazure, director of the Women’s Health Research Center at Yale.

“Research has proven that biological sex is important at all levels, from a single cell to the societal level,” Clayton said. “We also know that gender self-representation can affect symptom expression, disease manifestation, and the effectiveness of treatment. Thus, if sex and gender are not taken into account, clinicians cannot make the best treatment decisions for all patients.

As the understanding of sex and gender has grown over the past 20 years, so have the fields of scientific study. In her maintenance with Mazure, Clayton said that “intersex and non-binary identities must be recognized as they also have health implications”. She added that “the intersection of sex, gender, race and ethnicity” is also an important area of ​​research.

The Center for Research on Women’s Health was founded in 1998 by Mazure.

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