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Researchers Announce Important New Studies Investigating Chronic Pain, PTSD and Depression

Recover Injury Research Centre, Associate Director, Professor Michele Sterling, recently announced important new research at the Whiplash 2017 Symposium, held at the Gold Coast. The new research will investigate the effectiveness of the drug Pregabalin to prevent chronic pain following whiplash injury in ‘at-risk’ individuals.


Professor Sterling said, “Whiplash associated disorders are a costly burden to Australian society. Up to 50% of people who experience a whiplash injury will never fully recover. Whiplash is resistant to treatment and no early management approach has yet been shown to prevent chronic pain. We are hoping this study will provide a promising treatment for chronic pain.”


Professor Sterling brought leading international researchers to Australia for the Whiplash 2017 Symposium. One of the participating researchers, Dr Samuel McLean, MD, from  the University of North Carolina is also a practicing emergency medical doctor. Dr McLean shared his knowledge about the development and prevention of disorders such as chronic pain, posttraumatic stress disorder and depression after trauma.


Around 30% of people who present to the emergency departments in developed countries do so for care after trauma exposure. More than 9 out of 10 individuals who visit an emergency department after traumatic events are discharged. Unfortunately, adverse neuropsychiatric outcomes among these discharged patients are common, and include chronic pain, posttraumatic stress disorder, and depression.


Dr McLean said, “To give an Australian example, of the 160,000 people who visit the Gold Coast Health emergency departments, almost 50,000 have experienced a traumatic event such as a road traffic crash, assault or other incident. Based on all of the evidence to date in the world’s literature, of the 50,000 patients seen at Gold Coast Health for trauma-related injury, it’s likely that more than 5,000 would go on to develop depression, another 5,000 could develop PTSD, and over 6,000 might develop chronic pain. Because these disorders mostly arise after discharge, these conditions are often invisible to medical practitioners.”


Dr McLean and his team at the University of North Carolina are currently researching the biological basis of brain posttraumatic brain disorders such as PTSD, depression and chronic pain in a US$21-million study, which is unprecedented in both comprehensiveness of the data and in its scope. Study participants will be enrolled in the immediate aftermath of trauma, and will receive a relatively comprehensive “molecules-to-symptoms” evaluation, including genomic, neuroimaging, neurocognitive, behavioural, and symptom assessments.


Dr McLean said, “Two-hundred years ago, people thought wound infection was inevitable after trauma. This changed when people started to understand the biology behind infection and now we can significantly reduce the risk of infection, and treat it if necessary. There is no reason why we can’t prevent posttraumatic health conditions like PTSD, chronic pain and depression. We understand the biology of something like infection, and in the same way, we need to understand the biology of post-traumatic neuropsychiatric sequelae so that we can develop tools to identify the disorders and interventions to treat them. This is what our studies aim to achieve.”


Whiplash 2017 was a joint event of Griffith University, Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Recover Injury Research Centre and The University of Queensland.


Channel 7 News Queensland interviewed Dr McLean and Professor Sterling about their ground-breaking research:



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