A new grant funds research aimed towards to advance research for Alzheimer’s and cancer patients’ pain sensitivity. Credit: Amal Saeed | Photo Editor

New research at Ohio State and Vanderbilt University is investigating pain in patients with Alzheimer’s disease or cancer.

Todd Monroe, College of Nursing professor and principal investigator of the study, was awarded a $5-million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging to advance research for patients’ pain sensitivity. 

Monroe said in an email he’s found in previous research that people with Alzheimer’s disease have altered responses to pain while having a greater risk for undertreatment, and genders can experience things differently.

“This continues to show that untreated pain is a significant public health concern,” Monroe said.

The study is in collaboration with Ronald Cowan, psychiatry and behavioral science and radiology and radiological science professor at Vanderbilt University, who will act as principal investigator at Vanderbilt.

“It’s our hope this work will benefit this growing population of people at greater risk for suffering from pain that may go undetected,” Monroe said. 

Monroe, an American Academy of Nursing fellow, said the team is examining the response to thermal and pressure responses in patients with these diseases. The devices will test pain sensitivity and will present thermal and pressure stimuli through a simple device with a rubber tip that can be applied to a fingernail or palm, Monroe said. 

“All stimuli begin at a neutral level of no pain, and we can control the rate at which the thermal or pressure stimulus slowly increases,” Monroe said. 

Monroe said they then ask participants to tell them when they feel the pain through a scale of 0-10.

The cancer portion of the grant will look at female breast and male prostate cancers because they are common in older adults, Monroe said. To qualify for the study, patients must have mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease or stage 4 cancer. 

The population of older adults is continuing to grow, and this means the percentage of the population with these diseases and painful conditions will continue to grow, Monroe said. 

Mary Beth Happ, associate dean for research and innovation at the College of Nursing, said Monroe’s work to provide information and evidence on pain is exciting and cutting-edge.

Happ said collaborations with other locations, such as Vanderbilt University, help enhance the research process.

“Those collaborations provide multi-site research so that you can engage a larger pool of participants, a more diverse pool of participants, and take advantage of specialty knowledge and expertise that doesn’t have boundaries of the institution,” Happ said.