Fighting Pain with Radiology & Research

Currently, the primary measure of pain we have is a questionnaire completed by the patient. It’s critical to understand the patient’s experience, and these questionnaires have become very precise. But the questions and answers are, by their nature, subjective.

Lower back pain is chronic today across all age groups. Musculoskeletal degeneration can cause lower back pain as well as knee and hip pain. These problems can befall people with high levels of exercise, but there isn’t a clear understanding of the tissues contributing to pain. It could be A, B, C or a combination of factors, including bad posture or injury.

Imaging allows us to identify biomarkers as specific as the pain receptors on the surface of cells. Our goal is not to just develop markers, but develop objective measures of pain. In our research, we form multidisciplinary teams to address a common problem. These team members are radiologists, programmers, biostaticians, neuroscientists, bioengineers, orthopedic surgeons and rheumatologists.  UCSF has made it possible for all of us, from different disciplines and backgrounds, to interact in such way. In fact, this research is the closest interaction I have seen between so many fields of medicine and research, gaining multiple perspectives. In this environment, we are able to move from bench to bedside, quickly translating our learning to patient care. 

When pain is precisely diagnosed and localized, we can treat it selectively. Those discoveries could also help us understand how to use radiologic tools to predict pain.

Learn more about our Musculoskeletal Quantitative Imaging Research by clicking here

Sharmila Majumdar, PhD, is a UCSF professor and the vice chair of research in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging and professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at UCSF. She is director of the Musculoskeletal Research Interest Group at UCSF, an interdisciplinary group consisting of faculty, post-doctoral scholars and students. She obtained her PhD degree in Engineering and Applied Science from Yale University in 1987, where she stayed as a post-doctoral researcher and assistant professor until 1989, when she joined UCSF. Her research work on imaging, particularly magnetic resonance and micro-computed tomography, and development of image processing and analysis tools, has been focused in the areas of osteoporosis, osteo-arthritis and lower back pain. Her research, which is supported by grants from the NIH and corporate entities, is diverse, ranging from technical development to clinical trials. She currently heads an NIH Center of Research Translation focused on osteoarthritis and Iiaging, a joint effort between UCSF and UC Davis. 


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