UF researchers studying effects of genetics and childhood stress on prescription opioid abuse

The University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville and the University of Florida College of Nursing are combining efforts to research how genetics and stress experienced in early childhood years may later lead to negative health outcomes, such as opioid use disorder. Researchers are expanding upon an existing study to assess these factors in patients experiencing chronic pain.

Linking Epigenomics with Prescription Opioid Abuse and High Impact Musculoskeletal Pain, or LEAP, is a collaborative study between Sophia Sheikh, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville, and study sites at UF Health in Gainesville. Sheikh is looking at the role of genetics and the susceptibility of patients to chronic musculoskeletal pain and opioid abuse. The findings may improve understanding and treatment of these conditions and, potentially, reduce their development.

Lisa Domenico, Ph.D., CARN, an assistant professor and researcher at the UF College of Nursing and a former National Institute on Drug Abuse fellow, is extending the LEAP work through funds received from the College of Nursing. Her goal is to examine the association between adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, affective and cognitive functioning and opioid use patterns among people living with chronic pain.

ACEs are potentially traumatic events occurring in childhood between birth and age 17. They can include experiencing or witnessing abuse and violence, growing up in a household with substance misuse and more. The landmark Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study demonstrated these experiences are linked to an array of issues in adulthood, such as chronic health problems, mental illness and substance abuse.

“I am thrilled to connect with Dr. Sheikh and her team to build upon their work to better understand and treat pain,” Domenico said. “By using the lens of ACEs, we will learn more about the complex relationship between neurocognitive and genetic changes and pain.”

Domenico’s additions to the LEAP study include the National Institutes of Health cognition and emotion surveys, as well as the ACEs survey. Participants are being recruited from the Pain Management Center, emergency room and pain management program at the UF Health C.B. McIntosh Center on the UF Health Jacksonville campus, with the goal of enrolling 75 eligible patients. The team then plans to use its findings to apply for federal funding to conduct larger trials.

“We’re looking forward to Dr. Domenico’s contributions to the aims of LEAP,” Sheikh said. “She brings a unique perspective from her background in studying substance use disorders.”

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