A £14 million investment will help massively scale up research into chronic pain to improve outcomes for the many people living with painful and debilitating conditions, such as lower back pain.

This is a joint and equal investment from UKRI and the charity Versus Arthritis. For UKRI, the initiative is led by the Medical Research Council (MRC), with support from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

A new Advanced Pain Discovery Platform will see four new research consortia and a national chronic pain data hub established. The University of Bath will lead one of the consortia – a four-year project worth £3.8 million focusing on the psychosocial aspect of chronic pain.

This consortium involves researchers from the universities of Bath, Bath Spa, Bristol, Cardiff, Keele, Royal Holloway, University College London, and the University of the West of England.

They will study the psychological and social factors that influence people’s experience of pain. To date, our understanding of their relative importance is limited; nor do we know how psychosocial factors influence biological signals of pain.

Consortium lead and principal investigator, Professor Ed Keogh of the Bath Centre for Pain Research at the University of Bath, explains: “Chronic pain is incredibly common and can be highly debilitating. With one in five of us experiencing chronic pain, this new research funding provides a much needed and timely opportunity to understand better how chronic pain develops and is maintained.

“Pain is a highly complex topic and this funding will enable us to conduct transformative research. Not only does it allow us to research the mechanisms underpinning chronic pain in more detail, but it also enables us to work together collaboratively across different institutions and with colleagues across the UK. Greater understanding will ultimately help us to develop better ways of treating and managing pain.”

Researchers will focus on how people think and feel about their own pain, how other people affect their pain experiences, and the wider social and environmental influences. At each stage of the project researchers will work with and be guided by the experiences of people living with pain, one of whom is Colin Wilkinson.

He added: “Getting a deeper understanding of the links between the ways we think and feel, the world around us and pain will help us learn how to break the vicious circles that prolong and worsen people’s pain. In this consortium, researchers are working together with people who live with pain every step of the way. That partnership means what we learn will be grounded in what it means to live with pain every day, so it’s much more powerful in pointing the way to better solutions for pain.”

Dr Neha Issar-Brown, Director of Research at Versus Arthritis said: “We are delighted to be supporting Professor Keogh and colleagues to deliver this consortium as part of the ground-breaking Advanced Pain Discovery Platform (APDP).

"We know that millions of people live in chronic pain every day, a vast majority of whom have musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis. For many of them current treatments are not effective. People living with pain have told us that pain is complex and multidimensional.

"Research into pain needs to reflect this and understanding more about the psychological and social factors that are important in chronic pain is critical to improve our understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms, holistically, to lead the way to more innovative treatments. I'm confident that research funded through the APDP initiative will help transform the lives of people affected by chronic pain.”

Professor Keogh’s research grant submission for the new consortium was supported by the Research Development team in Research and Innovation Services (RIS), who work with academic staff to secure grant funding and realise their research ambitions, and the Pre-Award team.