Chronic pain affects 20-25% of the world’s population and results in long-lasting, draining illness. Unfortunately, current therapeutics provide very few patients with complete relief, as over half report inadequate respite from symptoms. This Investigator Grant aims to identify new avenues for the management and treatment of chronic pain by elucidating the detailed molecular mechanisms underlying increasing excitability (sensitisation) of pain receptor (nociceptor) cells.

Nociceptor sensitisation is a critical determinant for the onset of chronic pain – my previous research elucidated a signalling pathway involving specific neuromodulators (peptides, neurotransmitters) that were required for this process in the C. elegans model. My research vision is to extend these findings and generate new knowledge in the area of pain research using C. elegans– the best-characterised experimental nervous system – and innovative, cutting-edge techniques including microfluidics-based neural activity recordings, behavioural testing with optogenetics, and novel biosensors designed to dissect the spatiotemporal dynamics of neuromodulator signalling.

This research should provide significant benefits as it is expected to close a fundamental gap in knowledge on the molecular factors underlying the onset and duration of persistent pain. In the long-term, these insights can be used to define new principles on which to base strategies for the treatment and management of chronic pain. This research will also enable me to integrate a new cutting-edge experimental system and a dynamic network of collaborators to boost the global profile of Australian research. With more effective management strategies for chronic pain in great need, this research program is strategically designed to facilitate transformative outcomes in scientific knowledge of nociceptor sensitisation through high-impact publications, ultimately leading to translational outcomes in the clinic.

Funding body

National Health and Medical Research Institute

Scheme name

Investigator Grant (Emerging Leader 1)

Years funded

2019 – 2024

Lead institution

University of Wollongong

Project leaders

Research area