New blood test ‘objectively measures pain’

A test developed by Indiana University School of Medicine researchers can objectively measure levels of pain, according to a report published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The researchers tracked hundreds of study participants to identify biomarkers in the blood that can help objectively determine how severe a patient’s pain is. The blood test, the first of its kind, would allow physicians far more accuracy in treating pain, as well as a better long-term look at the patient’s medical future.

Alexander Niculescu, the study’s lead author, said: ‘We have developed a prototype for a blood test that can objectively tell doctors if the patient is in pain, and how severe that pain is. It’s very important to have an objective measure of pain, as pain is a subjective sensation. Until now we have had to rely on patients self-reporting or the clinical impression the doctor has. When we started this work it was a farfetched idea. But the idea was to find a way to treat and prescribe things more appropriately to people who are in pain.’

During the study, researchers looked at biomarkers found in the blood – in this case molecules that reflect disease severity. Much like as glucose serves as a biomarker to diabetes, these biomarkers allow doctors to assess the severity of the pain the patient is experiencing, and provide treatment in an objective, quantifiable manner.

In addition to providing an objective measure of pain, the blood test helps physicians match the biomarkers in the patient’s blood with potential treatment options.

‘The biomarker is like a fingerprint, and we match it against this database and see which compound would normalize the signature,’ said Niculescu. ‘We found some compounds that have been used for decades to treat other things pair the best with the biomarkers. We have been able to match biomarkers with existing medications, or natural compounds, which would reduce or eliminate the need to use the opioids.