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Coming Soon—A Funding Opportunity on Biomarkers for Myofascial Pain

Director’s Page
Helene M. Langevin, M.D.

August 19, 2021

I’m writing today to let you know about an upcoming funding opportunity for research on myofascial pain. We’re telling the research community about this opportunity in advance because we realize that potential applicants will need time to start putting together their teams and planning their projects. We expect that the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) will be published in fall 2021, with an application due date in winter 2021. You can get full details about the upcoming funding opportunity from the notice (NOT-AT-21-012).

The FOA, which will be part of the NIH HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM) Initiative, will focus on the development of biomarkers of myofascial tissues for pain management in human subjects. Possible biomarkers may include objective measures based on minimally invasive imaging technologies, electrophysiological recordings, integration of multiparametric imaging, or their integration with other markers (immune factors, genomic markers, physiological factors, etc.) through multiscale modeling or machine learning analysis.

The FOA will use a two-phase funding mechanism.

  • The first phase will provide funding for up to 2 years to identify and develop quantitative measures that can distinguish abnormal myofascial tissues from normal tissues.
  • The second phase will provide up to 3 years of support for research to assess the ability of the measures developed in the first phase to predict outcomes in response to specified therapies for myofascial pain in longitudinal intervention studies.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) will co-lead this initiative. Other NIH partners include the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Biomarkers Are Critical for Advancing Myofascial Pain Research

As we discussed during last year’s HEAL Initiative workshop “Quantitative Evaluation of Myofascial Tissues: Potential Impact for Musculoskeletal Pain Research,” myofascial pain syndrome is currently a clinical diagnosis based on history and physical examination. The palpable tissue abnormalities that we observe clinically have not been documented using objective measurement methods.

The lack of objective biomarkers has greatly hampered research on myofascial pain. Without biomarkers, we can’t fully understand what’s happening during either the active or latent phases of myofascial pain syndrome. We can’t be sure of the extent to which myofascial tissue abnormalities contribute to conditions such as chronic low-back pain, temporomandibular disorders, chronic neck and shoulder pain, or headache. And we face roadblocks as we try to develop and evaluate strategies for managing myofascial pain syndrome or other pain conditions that may have a myofascial component. Therefore, the research that will be supported by this initiative will fill important gaps in our knowledge and play a crucial role in advancing research on myofascial pain.

Opportunities for Collaborative Projects

Because of the two-phase structure of this funding opportunity and the broad range of potential biomarkers that might be investigated, we expect that applications will involve collaborations among specialists in different fields, including technology developers, myofascial tissue experts, and pain researchers, as well as clinicians who can deliver the therapies that will be used in the second phase. These therapies may include physical force-based manipulations, such as manual therapies and stretching-based physical activities, dry needling or acupuncture, thermotherapies, or local chemical-based injection therapies.

If this topic area aligns with your research interests, I hope you’ll consider putting together a team and planning an application. You may find the NIH RePORTER system helpful for identifying potential collaborators in the various areas of expertise needed for your project. We will hold an informational webinar about this funding opportunity in the fall, but you don’t have to wait for the webinar if you have questions. Please feel free to contact NCCIH or NIBIB program staff listed in the notice to discuss your potential project. We look forward to hearing from you.

For More Information

Helene M. Langevin, M.D.
Helene M. Langevin, M.D.