Rochester Scientist Honored by American Pain Society

May 12, 2005

            A Rochester scientist who is a national expert on chronic pain has been honored by the American Pain Society.

            Robert H. Dworkin, Ph.D., professor of Anesthesiology, Neurology, Oncology, and Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center, received the Wilbert E. Fordyce Clinical Investigator Award from the American Pain Society at its recent meeting in Boston. The award recognizes Dworkin’s career aimed at learning more about and ultimately treating and preventing chronic pain more effectively.

            Dworkin is an expert on neuropathic pain, a type of severe pain caused by damage to nerves. Doctors estimate that 4 to 6 million people in the United States have such pain, which for many is completely disabling. Sufferers can include people who have had shingles, who have diabetes, and who have or had cancer, multiple sclerosis, a stroke, a spinal cord injury, or a number of other conditions. Treating such patients is oftentimes frustrating for doctors and nurses because the condition can be very difficult or impossible to treat effectively, and patients are oftentimes desperate for relief.

            To help doctors learn about new research that could help them treat patients more effectively, Dworkin founded the International Conference on the Mechanisms and Treatment of Neuropathic Pain, a group of experts from around the world that meets annually. They developed the first-ever evidence-based treatment guidelines for neuropathic pain. The guidelines, published in 2003, highlight recently improved treatments for patients and are now used worldwide to help guide the care of patients. Through the guidelines Dworkin has improved the care of people in pain worldwide.

            Dworkin also co-chairs a collaboration of people from universities, the pharmaceutical industry, government agencies, and patient support groups that aims to improve the design and interpretation of clinical trials of treatments for pain.

            Dworkin plays a major role nationally addressing safety and pain issues. He is a member of the Anesthetic and Life Support Drugs Advisory Committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and earlier this year he took part in a highly visible FDA advisory committee meeting where experts discussed the safety of drugs such as Vioxx, Celebrex, and other cox-2 inhibitors. He is also a member of data and safety monitoring boards of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health, and he serves as an advisor to several pharmaceutical firms. He is an associate editor of the Clinical Journal of Pain.

            A psychologist by training, Dworkin began his career searching for psychological traits that put a person at risk for experiencing chronic pain. Over the past two decades he has turned his attention to the broader study of pain. He has discovered that patients with painful conditions like shingles or who have had breast cancer surgery who experience more severe acute pain are more likely than others to develop chronic pain. This finding has led to the prediction that reducing acute pain will decrease a patient’s risk of developing chronic pain.

            Dworkin received his bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from the University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate in psychology from Harvard. He has been with the university since 1997 and is also director of the Anesthesiology Clinical Research Center.

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