UF Nursing Researchers Earn $6.3 Million Grant to Study Alternative Treatments for Sickle Cell Disease Pain

Two College of Nursing researchers earned a four-year, $6.3 million grant to investigate if therapies such as acupuncture and guided relaxation could be used to reduce addictive medications when treating chronic pain caused by sickle cell disease.

Miriam Ezenwa, PhD, MSN, BSN, RN, FAAN

The award from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a division of the National Institutes of Health, will fund a study evaluating acupuncture and a cognitive-behavioral technique named guided relaxation as therapies to ease pain in sickle cell disease patients. These patients will be drawn from adult sickle cell clinics across three health systems, University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, University of Florida Health, and Duke University Health Systems.

College of Nursing faculty Miriam O. Ezenwa, PhD, RN, FAAN and Diana J. Wilkie, PhD, RN, FAAN are lead investigators on the research team, which includes Molly Mandernach, MD, MPH, FACP, from the College of Medicine. The team plans to use their results to help determine if pain, sickle cell disease’s hallmark symptom and the leading cause of hospitalization, can be managed with less use of a highly addictive class of medication known as opioids.

Diana Wilkie, PhD, RN, FAAN

The grant includes two phases. The initial planning phase has been completed. Now, in phase two, the research group will conduct a randomized controlled trial to test how effective guided relaxation and acupuncture are at managing a patient’s pain and if they can adapt to varying pain intensities. As part of the NIH’S HEAL initiative to stem the national opioid public health crisis, the research will also set the stage to move Ezenwa’s guided relaxation intervention into clinical care of patients with sickle cell disease.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Center for Complementary & Integrative Health of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number UH3AT011265. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.