“A mouse or a rat is not a human,” says Allan Basbaum, Ph.D., a basic pain scientist from the University of California, San Francisco, and a member of the NIH HEAL Initiative Multidisciplinary Working Group that guides the initiative's research. Although animal models are a critical part of the solution for finding new, non-addictive treatments for pain, he adds, just as important is understanding the experience, feelings, and thoughts of pain patients. 

HEAL-funded science spans the entire range from basic preclinical research conducted with isolated cells, tissues, and animal models to translational research that tests application of the findings in humans and large clinical trials.  

For all studies involving human participants, talking to patients and their communities is essential. Accordingly, many HEAL-funded studies have implemented effective patient and community engagement efforts. But many basic researchers have never had the opportunity to interact with a patient. 

Basbaum learned early on in his research career that talking to patients enriched and improved his research, noting that animal models can take you only so far in understanding pain and its consequences. Basbaum encourages basic researchers who study pain to talk with clinicians, visit a pain clinic, and talk to people about how chronic pain affects their lives, what treatments they have undergone, what has worked, and what hasn’t worked. “You realize there are elements of the pain experience that a patient has that you just don't know until you talk to them," he explains. "That has changed the way I think.”

HEAL is committed to whole-person, patient-centric research that acknowledges all aspects of an individual living with pain or addiction. As Basbaum explains, talking to people living with the condition they are studying changes the meaning and the power of your science. 

Watch Dr. Basbaum’s full interview (5:37 min watch)