Overview and objectives

An increased or decreased ability to perceive pain has drastic and costly effects on the European population in terms of their performance at work and daily quality of life. Specifically, moderate to severe chronic pain in both musculoskeletal conditions and neuropathic pain states occurs in 19% of adult Europeans and in 50% of these cases, patients receive inadequate treatment for their chronic pain. Novel, more effective treatments are therefore required. Furthermore, pain is a major comorbidity in age-related neurodegenerative diseases and with the predicted near doubling of the EU population aged >65 reaching 151 million in 2060, the management of pain is a significant public health concern.

An emerging concept in the pain research area is that the inflammatory response associated with damage in the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS), namely neuroinflammation, may contribute to a variety of pain states, encompassing those that have either a peripheral or CNS origin.

TOBeATPAIN does propose an innovative approach that will examine the neuroinflammation associated with pain in peripheral and central diseases and will identify the critical non–neuronal cellular players and mediators involved in pathological pain signalling. The following two hypothesis will be tested. The first is that neuroinflammation represents an underlying mechanism of pathological pain that occurs as a result of diseases within the brain as well as in the peripheral nervous system. The second is that the precise mechanisms of neuroinflammation in peripheral and brain diseases share some features but also vary and possess individual characteristics.

Scientific themes

TOBeATPAIN is structured around two scientific themes:

  1. Pathophysiology of pain in neurodegenerative diseases characterised by neuroinflammation.
  2. Pathophysiology of neuroinflammation in chronic pain syndromes.

To develop these themes, TOBeATPAIN has formulated three research objectives:

  1. To establish the mechanisms by which (micro)glia activity impacts on pain in neurodegenerative conditions (central damage).
  2. To establish the mechanisms by which (micro)glia affect pain in fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis (peripheral damage).
  3. To establish the mechanisms by which (micro)glia activity affects pain in peripheral neuropathies (peripheral damage).

Unique training platform

The strong intersectoral (5 universities, 3 biotech SMEs, 2 large companies, and 1 non-profit research charity) character offers a unique training platform that ensures exposure to different research/training environments and cultures. The central role of the private sector highlights the ethos of this ITN whereby both translation of scientific training into practice and strengthening of private-public sector links are essential for the success of the EU2020 strategy, as well as for significant economic and social outcome.

Work Plan

The work plan is divided into seven work packages (WPS). WP1, WP2 and WP3 cover the two main research areas (scientific themes). WP4 reflects the training programme, including transferable skills. WP5 ensures adequate exploitation of the research’s outcomes. WP6 and WP7 oversee management and coordination of this ITN, making research results available to a larger non-scientific and scientific audience, providing visibility, social and economic impact to the results, attracting interest towards research and scientific professions by young people.

Work Package 1 – Neuroimmune  interactions and pain in neurodegenerative conditions

WP Leader: KCL

This WP aims to define the circumstances under which microglia and astrocyte activation produces pain, the mechanisms by which these non-neuronal cells contribute to altered pain sensitivity in AD and PD patients, in animal models of AD and PD as well as in in-vivo models for measuring neuronal activity.

Work Package 2 – Neuroimmune interactions and pain in rheumatic diseases

WP Leader: KI

This WP aims to define the mechanisms by which macrophage activity in dorsal root ganglia (DRG) and microglia and astrocyte activity in the brain and spinal cord contributes to pain in FM patients and animal models of RA.

Work Package 3 – Neuroimmune interactions and pain in peripheral neuropathies

WP Leader: MUI

With a clear therapeutic angle, this WP aims to define the mechanisms by which microglia and astrocyte activity in the CNS and macrophages and T cells in the periphery contribute to pain in models of FD and peripheral nerve trauma as well as in neuropathic patients. This WP also exploits the potential antinociceptive effect of medical marijuana extracts – devoid of classical cannabidiol or tetrahydrocannabinol – via activation of CB2 receptor expressed by immune cells.

Work Package 4 – Training

WP Leader: UKJ

The main goal of this WP is to provide in-depth scientific and complementary training in multiple scientific disciplines and techniques, and to equip all Early Stage Researchers with specialised complementary skills, and exposure to different research environments.

Work Package 5 – Exploitation

WP Leaders: UKW, Kancera

The main goals of this WP are to ensure adequate exploitation of the research outcomes by preparing a plan for the use of foreground, and to provide skills and hands-on experience to the Early Stage Researchers in how academic and industrial organisations manage IP and the exploitation of IP with the ultimate goal of novel therapeutic interventions, which benefit human health.

Work Package 6 – Dissemination and Communication

WP Leader: KCL

The main goals of this WP are to disseminate scientifically and communicate widely research results by using, in addition to traditional scientific publications and conferences, a dedicated website and at the same time maximising use of technology, and to translate and communicate the scientific findings into easily understandable conclusions and recommendations for the public and stakeholders.

Work Package 7 – Project Management

WP Leader: KCL

The main goal of this WP is to deal with the management aspects of the network, monitoring all organizational, reporting and financial aspects while respecting the contractual commitments.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 764860.