Novel blood test can measure severity of pain
A first-of-its-kind blood test that can measure the severity of pain in patients may help curb unnecessary prescriptions of painkillers, which are often addictive. For the study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, researchers tracked hundreds of participants to identify biomarkers in the blood that can help objectively determine how severe a patient’s pain is. The blood test would allow physicians far more accuracy in treating pain-as well as a better long-term look at the patient’s medical future.
“We have developed a prototype for a blood test that can objectively tell doctors if the patient is in pain, and how severe that pain is,” said Alexander Niculescu, a professor at Indiana University in the US.
“It’s very important to have an objective measure of pain, as pain is a subjective sensation. Until now we have had to rely on patients self-reporting or the clinical impression the doctor has,” said Niculescu.
“When we started this work it was a farfetched idea. But the idea was to find a way to treat and prescribe things more appropriately to people who are in pain,” he said.
Researchers looked at biomarkers found in the blood -- in this case molecules that reflect disease severity. Much like as glucose serves as a biomarker to diabetes, these biomarkers allow doctors to assess the severity of the pain the patient is experiencing, and provide treatment in an objective, quantifiable manner. With an opioid epidemic becoming an increasing concern, Niculescu said never has there been a more important time to administer drugs to patients responsibly.
“The opioid epidemic occurred because addictive medications were overprescribed due to the fact that there was no objective measure whether someone was in pain, or how severe their pain was,” Niculescu said.
“Before, doctors weren’t being taught good alternatives. The thought was that this person says they are in pain, let’s prescribe it. Now people are seeing that this created a huge problem,” he said.
“We need alternatives to opioids, and we need to treat people in a precise fashion. This test we’ve developed allows for that,” he added.
In addition to providing an objective measure of pain, the blood test helps physicians match the biomarkers in the patient’s blood with potential treatment options. Researchers utilise a prescription database -- similar to fingerprint databases employed by the FBI -- to match the pain biomarkers with profiles of drugs and natural compounds cataloged in the database.
“The biomarker is like a fingerprint, and we match it against this database and see which compound would normalise the signature,” said Niculescu. “We found some compounds that have been used for decades to treat other things pair the best with the biomarkers. We have been able to match biomarkers with existing medications, or natural compounds, which would reduce or eliminate the need to use the opioids,” he added.