UNC Part of $19 Million Grant to Study Jaw, Neck Pain

One of the most stubborn and debilitating pain syndromes will come under unprecedented scrutiny over the next seven years as researchers at Carolina fulfill a new $19 million cooperative agreement with the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Collaborating in the effort will be scientists at the universities of Florida and Maryland, the Buffalo campus of the State University of New York, and Batelle Memorial Institute in Durham.

UNC will establish a center aimed at learning more about what causes temporomandibular joint disorder and eventually how treatments can be improved and pain eliminated or eased. Each year, the illness incurs more than $1 billion in health-care costs in the United States.

The federal grant is one of the largest in UNC’s history.

“This is an extremely common disorder that afflicts millions of people worldwide and ranks second only to headache in producing craniofacial pain and dysfunction in the U.S. population,” said Dr. William Maixner, professor and director of the new Center for Neurosensory Disorders at the UNC School of Dentistry. “One of our primary goals with this research and center is to identify new ways of improving therapies for TMJD and related conditions.”

Approximately 3,200 men and women will be evaluated over five years in the project, which is the nation’s first large multicenter prospective study on pain, Maixner said. Researchers expect that several hundred volunteers will develop TMJD during that time. Those patients will be further evaluated genetically, medically and psychologically to identify factors contributing to pain and dysfunction.

Based on individual characteristics, the subjects will be classified further into subgroups for which improved treatments can be developed and targeted. UNC scientists already are evaluating the possibility of using a class of drugs called beta blockers to help TMJD sufferers.