Leader(s): Nader Ghasemlou, PhD (Queen’s University); Luda Diatchenko, PhD (McGill); Ian Gilron, MD (Queen’s University)
Institution(s): Queen’s University
Other Members: Scott Duggan, MD (Queen’s University); Elizabeth VanDenKerkhof, PhD (Queen’s University); Qingling Duan, PhD (Queen’s University), Brian Kwon, MD (UBC), Judith Steen, PhD (Boston Children’s Hospital)

Why was the study done?
The majority of people living with spinal cord injury (SCI) experience profound and debilitating pain over the course of their lives. Adequate pain management options do not exist, and people are often reliant on opioids and narcotics that carry risks. While the majority of SCI research uses animal models, finding promising therapeutic targets for people has been difficult. We therefore sought to use human biological data, like blood samples, to identify potential cellular and molecular signals underlying SCI pain in an effort to bypass this roadblock bringing fundamental research to the clinic. This strategy may also identify new, tailored treatments that could be effective and specific for the treatment of pain in various diseases.

How was the study done?
Using cutting-edge bioinformatics (computational) methods, our team has studied changes in gene expression among white blood cells collected from people living with SCI, with and without pain.

What were the study results?
We were able to identify several genes and networks of genes (interacting with each other in specific pathways) that are preferentially expressed in those living with SCI pain but not present in people living without pain after injury. Many of these targets control inflammation; we are now following up on these findings to identify whether they are also expressed in animal models and will work to identify their contribution to the pain response using a newly-developed SCI pain model in our lab. We hope that, with more specific treatment options available, we can reduce potential side effects from current therapies and offer more effective pain management.

Was a patient-partner involved with your study?
We worked in partnership with patient perspective partner Lesley Singer and members of the Kingston Spinal Cord Injury Support Group.


Recent Updates:
Identified new therapeutic targets expressed specifically in people living with spinal cord injury pain, with the manuscript submitted for publication.
Last updated: May 2021

Selected Publications:
  • Isolation and RNA purification of macrophages/microglia from the adult mouse spinal cord. Tsatas O, Ghasemlou N. J Immunol Methods. 2020 Feb;477:112678. doi: 10.1016/j.jim.2019.112678.