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Duke Teams Earn NIH Funding as Part of National Effort to Combat Opioid Crisis

More than $24 million in funding is part of the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative

Published September 26, 2019 | Updated September 26, 2019

Pills spilling from a bottle
Pills spilling from a bottle

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DURHAM, N.C. -- Research teams from Duke received more than $24 million in federal grants to address challenges related to pain and the opioid crisis, with more than $19 million awarded to investigators from the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), the world’s largest academic research organization.

The grants are part of the NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative (NIH HEAL Initiative). The federal research initiative, launched in early 2018 by NIH Director Francis S. Collins, aims to apply scientific solutions to improve treatments for chronic pain, curb the rates of opioid use disorder and overdose, and achieve long-term recovery for opioid addiction.

The Duke research awards are part of the NIH’s funding allocation that includes 375 grants across 41 states. Additional awards of more than $12 million are anticipated over the next 5 years, which would bring Duke’s total grant amount to more than $36 million.

“Duke researchers continue to be at the forefront of tackling some of the biggest issues that impact health and wellness in our world today,” said Mary E. Klotman, M.D., dean of the Duke University School of Medicine. “This support from the NIH will allow our faculty to explore new ways of managing chronic pain and overcoming addiction -- efforts that could improve the lives of millions of people.”

Duke awards provide support for: 

•    A clinical center to conduct Phase 2 trials of non-addictive pain interventions. The clinical center, called the Duke Pain Early-Phase Clinical Research Center, will be led by Alexander T. Limkakeng Jr., M.D., vice chief of research for the Duke Division of Emergency Medicine, and Francis Keefe, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. The grant is for $1 million over 5 years. 

•    A research project to identify new central analgesic circuits that could be harnessed to treat chronic pain. This effort is aimed at helping address chronic pain, a health problem that affects one-third of people in the U.S. Funded at $3.2 million over 5 years, the research is led by principal investigator Fan Wang, Ph.D., the Morris N. Broad Distinguished Professor of Neurobiology. 

•    A research program to improve the efficacy of using an implantable medical device that stimulates the spinal cord to treat chronic neuropathic pain. Currently, fewer than two-thirds of people who receive this therapy experience at least a 50 percent reduction in pain, creating a need for new patterns of spinal cord stimulation that provide better pain suppression. The project is led by Warren Grill, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering in Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. It is funded at $1.1 million over 3 years. 

Five additional awards were granted to members of the Duke Clinical Research Institute. The funded projects include:
 
•    The Duke/Vanderbilt University Medical Center Trial Innovation Center received $5.7 million, which will act as supplemental funding to a project called Center for Innovative TRIals in ChilDrEN and AdulTs (TRIDENT). The award, which is anticipated to total $18 million over 5 years, will enable the research team to support pain and opioid studies selected to be part of the NIH HEAL Pain Management Effective Research Network. The DCRI’s Danny Benjamin, M.D., Ph.D., who serves as the contact principal investigator for TRIDENT, will oversee the HEAL-related activities. 

•    A coordinating center to support pragmatic studies focused on pain management and opioid use received a $6.2 million award. The project, called Resource Coordinating Center for Pragmatic and Implementation Studies for the Management of Pain to Reduce Opioid Prescribing (PRISM), will be integrated into the NIH Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory Program and led by contact principal investigator Adrian Hernandez, M.D., along with co-principal investigators Lesley Curtis, Ph.D., and Kevin Weinfurt, Ph.D. 

•    The Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program received $6.8 million in supplemental funding to support studies of infants with neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome. The work will be led by P. Brian Smith, M.D., the Samuel L. Katz Professor of Pediatrics.

•    A study exploring the impact of prenatal opioid exposure on early brain development and long-term childhood outcomes received an award of $543,375. This study will also be led by Smith, and his team will collaborate with a consortium of four other institutions that also received awards for this work.

•    A study to develop and test pharmacy-based care models also received an award. Li-Tzy Wu, SCD, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, aims to leverage community pharmacies to improve treatment and follow-up for people with opioid-use disorder. 

“We are proud that our faculty and staff are partnering to address the opioid crisis, one of the toughest challenges of our time,” said the DCRI’s interim executive director, Lesley Curtis, Ph.D. “This incredibly important work will lead to better treatments and improved pathways for people experiencing pain. These awards are especially significant for the DCRI because they enable us to deliver on our mission of leading innovative research that improves the care of patients around the world.”

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