• Bernadett

UCSF Receives 10 NIH Grants to Study Pain and Opioid Addiction

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded 10 grants to UC San Francisco researchers as part of the NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative. These awards have totaled more than $40 million, with the purpose of funding projects such as:

  • Improved technologies for MRI imaging of back pain

  • Utilization of deep-brain stimulation for treating chronic pain

  • New interdisciplinary research center for low back pain

Dr. Faustino Bernadett has long been involved with UCSF, so this news hits home for him. Not only is he a proud alumnus of University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine, Dr. Faustino was the UC San Francisco Board Overseer, UCSF Campaign Donation Supporter and created a UCSF scholarship in honor of his father, Faustino Bernadett, Sr.

Faustino Bernadett, along with his wife, also established the Faustino and Martha Molina Bernadett Presidential Chair for Education in the UCSF School of Medicine. It stands as no surprise, then that he views the NIH grants as a source of pride for his alma mater. After all, he has dedicated his life as a doctor of pain management.

Pain Management and Opioid Addiction

According to the CDC, 50 million U.S. adults suffer from chronic pain, one of the most common reasons they seek medical care. But chronic pain has been linked to restrictions in mobility and daily activities, dependence on opioids, anxiety, depression, and reduced quality of life. Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts longer than three consecutive months.

Low back pain, headaches, arthritis, and neuropathy top the list of causes, costing the country $635 billion annually. In 2018 alone, more than a million Americans age 12 and older misused opioids, including heroin. Opioid addiction is a long-lasting disease that can lead to major health, social, and economic problems. This class of drugs affects the nervous system to produce feelings of pleasure and pain relief. Some opioids are legally prescribed by healthcare providers, and those include oxycodone, fentanyl, methadone, buprenorphine, oxymorphone, hydrocodone, codeine, and morphine.

This type of addiction is characterized by a powerful, compulsive urge to use opioid drugs, even when the person no longer requires them medically. They have a high potential for causing addiction in some people, even when the medications are prescribed appropriately and taken as directed. Sadly, many prescription opioids are misused or given to others. Many of those who become addicted begin to prioritize these drugs over other activities that they used to take pleasure in, negatively impacting their professional and personal relationships, says the NIH.

How the UCSF Grants Help

Many of the grants are to focus on lower back pain, a common yet difficult-to-treat condition. In fact, it ranks highest in terms of years lived with disability, yet no consistently effective medication exists to treat chronic low back pain. Opioids are still the most common treatment but they come with negative side effects, including the potential for addiction.

The largest of the grants, at $29 million, will help to create the Core Center for Patient-centric Mechanistic Phenotyping in Chronic Low Back Pain (REACH) at UCSF. This is an interdisciplinary consortium of scientists who work to define different types of chronic low back pain and pain mechanisms that could result in effective, personalized treatments for patients. You can learn about the other grants here.

The NIH launched the HEAL Initiative in April 2018 to hasten scientific solutions that can address the national opioid public health crisis, with the goal of preventing addiction through enhanced pain management and to boost treatment for opioid misuse. This past year alone, the HEAL Initiative awarded $945 million to 375 projects across the country.

Dr. Bernadett and UCSF

Dr. Bernadett continues to be an avid supporter of UCSF. In 2015, he was awarded the “Top 150 Alumni of UCSF for the Last 150 years” by U.C.S.F. To celebrate UCSF’s 150th anniversary, the Alumni Board honored 150 of its brightest and best with an Alumni Excellence Award. In addition, the Bernadetts donated $100,000 to name the Tino & Martha Bernadett Lounge in the UCSF Mission Bay Community Center. Plus, he is a member of the steering committee of the U.C.S.F. PRIME program, comprised of medical students committed to working with urban underserved communities.

To learn more about Dr. Faustino Bernadett’s work with UCSF and all his other programs, visit his website.

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