Tuesday, July 27, 2010

juniorprof's #painresearchmatters campaign

In case any of you readers out there missed juniorprof's roaring back into the science blogosphere, I thought I'd take a moment to highlight his campaign to improve the awareness of pain and pain research, in all its facets, from the toll it takes on those who suffer from it, to current and new therapies, to new basic science. If you have a story to add to the discussion, from whatever perspective, head over to his blog to contribute. Or check out his Twitter feed if you're into that sorta thing.

From a neuroscience standpoint, I can attest to the fact that although pain is an incredibly interesting topic, it isn't up there front and center with the Big Questions of Neuroscience. Off the top of your head, how many Nobel prizes have been awarded for pain related research? I got nothing (OTOH, there's a number of ion channel and synapse related prizes I can name). During out intro to neuroscience course in grad school, I think we had one, count 'em ONE, guest lecture about pain. Try and guess how many we had about synapses, or the visual cortex? Nothing against those systems; I love them too, and some of my best friends are synaptic physiologists. It just serves to illuminate the priorities of the field.

Come to think of it, this is reflected in my own bias as well. See, during grad school I did research on nociceptors, those ornery little neurons that convey signals about injury to the central nervous system. And yet, I never did call myself a "pain researcher," nor do I know think back on that as "pain research." Why is that?

I'll admit that some of that it to prevent being labeled as "too applied" or "too disease oriented" in my research question. I liked to believe my research had broader applicability to questions of excitability and action potential electrogenesis, so I shied away from it. Now that I think about it, that personal bias is counterproductive when it extends throughout the community. I'd hazard a guess that you probably know the feeling, that applied research is somehow lesser, or done by "those clinical people (and we all know how good they are, knowwhatImeannudgenudge, aren't we great, high fives) leads to a situation like juniorprof tweeted yesterday:

"Pain #1 reason people seek medical attention but pain rsrch less than 1% of NIH budget"
(reference for that here)

That's just crazy. Crazy crazy crazy. It makes me regret how I characterized both my research and myself as a scientist.

So I'll say it loud, and say it proud, I was, and still am (for about ~35% of my time depending on which project I'm currently focusing on and don't even get me started about that last grad school paper but don't forget I had two kids so cut me some slack) a PAIN RESEARCHER!

I think in the near future I'll write up a few posts on nociceptor excitability and ion channels. Thanks for the inspiration juniorprof!


Anonymous said...

Nat, this is great! I am really very touched by your story and am very pleased to hear that you are firmly in the pain research camp now. So, does this mean we'll be seeing you at IASP in Montreal in Aug/Sept? There are all sort of opportunities for young investigator funding in pain right now... you should hop on it!

Nat Blair said...

*sigh* I dunno what I really want to do. Part of me likes the current post doc gig (having followed plenty of asst. professor blogs). But it can't last forever. Can it? Should it?

Right now I'm just reveling in the improvements in the life end of the work-life balance. Soon I'll need to seriously assess the whole work side.

Anonymous said...

There's this program for postdocs in APS:
Its closed for this year but will open back up in July for 2011. Postdocs should not last forever and showing evidence of ability to obtain funding is useful no matter what you decide to do. I'm sure you could spin any basic work on TRPs into that program. With your history, you should be a strong candidate (trust me, I know).