Duke Researchers Receive NIH Funding to Combat Opioid Crisis


Research teams from Duke received more than $24 million in federal grants to address challenges related to pain and the opioid crisis, with more than $19 million awarded to investigators from the Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI), the world’s largest academic research organization.

The grants are part of the NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative (NIH HEAL Initiative). The federal research initiative, launched in early 2018 by NIH Director Francis S. Collins, aims to apply scientific solutions to improve treatments for chronic pain, curb the rates of opioid use disorder and overdose, and achieve long-term recovery for opioid addiction.

The Duke research awards are part of the NIH’s funding allocation that includes 375 grants across 41 states. Additional awards of more than $12 million are anticipated over the next 5 years, which would bring Duke’s total grant amount to more than $36 million.

“Duke researchers continue to be at the forefront of tackling some of the biggest issues that impact health and wellness in our world today,” said Mary E. Klotman, M.D., dean of the Duke University School of Medicine. “This support from the NIH will allow our faculty to explore new ways of managing chronic pain and overcoming addiction — efforts that could improve the lives of millions of people.”

Duke awards provide support for:

  • A clinical center to conduct Phase 2 trials of non-addictive pain interventions. The clinical center, called the Duke Pain Early-Phase Clinical Research Center, will be led by Alexander T. Limkakeng Jr., M.D., vice chief of research for the Duke Division of Emergency Medicine, and Francis Keefe, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. The grant is for $1 million over 5 years.
  • A research project to identify new central analgesic circuits that could be harnessed to treat chronic pain. This effort is aimed at helping address chronic pain, a health problem that affects one-third of people in the U.S. Funded at $3.2 million over 5 years, the research is led by principal investigator Fan Wang, Ph.D., the Morris N. Broad Distinguished Professor of Neurobiology.
  • A research program to improve the efficacy of using an implantable medical device that stimulates the spinal cord to treat chronic neuropathic pain. Currently, fewer than two-thirds of people who receive this therapy experience at least a 50 percent reduction in pain, creating a need for new patterns of spinal cord stimulation that provide better pain suppression. The project is led by Warren Grill, Ph.D., professor of biomedical engineering in Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. It is funded at $1.1 million over 3 years.

Grill is a member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS) Faculty Steering Committee. Wang is a former member of the DIBS Faculty Governance Committee. Limkakeng was involved in a Bass Connections in Brain & Society project team led by DIBS on stemming the opioid epidemic.

Five additional awards were granted to members of the Duke Clinical Research Institute. Read the full article on the Duke Health website.