Dr. Cahill's research aims to understand the neurobiology of chronic pain and seeks novel ways to alleviate it. She also studies how chronic pain changes the brain, especially in areas known to be important for emotion, fear and motivation. A further emphasis of her research is on opioid addiciton, especially identifying suceptibilities and changes in the brain that are associated with occurrence of chronic pain.
Chronic pain is a disease that encompasses both sensory and emotional elements. Opioids are highly effective analgesics because they target both of these elements, by inhibiting pain pathways and alleviating negative affect (including depression) by engaging reward or hedonic pathways. Neuroinflammation is a common phenomenon associated with chronic pain and prolonged opioid use, which contributes to pain sensitization and negative affect (anxiety and depression). Similarly, the kappa opioid system is responsible for dysphoric states and is upregulated in chronic pain states and with prolonged opioid use. Dr. Cahill's research aims to understand how neuroinflammation and kappa systems contribute to negative affective states with the goal of improving pain treatment outcomes and substance use disorders. Her research uses behavioral neuroscience, imaging, anatomy and biochemistry to understand mechanisms of chronic pain and opioid misuse in chronic pain states.
Catherine M. Cahill, Ph.D. trained as an opioid neuropharmaoclogist at Dalhousie University, Canada receiving her PhD in 1996. She was recruited to the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Care at University of California Irvine in 2012 from Queen’s University in Canada where she held a Canada Research Chair in Chronic Pain for 10 years. She moved to UCLA in 2017 and is now a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences and a member of the Hatos Center for Neuropharmacology at the University of California Los Angeles.
She has more than 25 years experience in research that focuses on understanding mechanisms of chronic pain and opioid analgesia, tolerance, dependence and addiction. Her research spans both basic science and human research, which focuses on how chronic pain states modulate reward circuitry and changes dopaminergic transmission responsible for motivated behavior. A large emphasis of her research focuses on understanding the processes that influence the positive and negative reinforcement and changes in mesolimbic circuitry in order to identify novel treatment strategies for opioid dependence and chronic pain.
Dr. Cahill’s research is supported by the National Institutes of Drug abuse, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, the National Institute of Aging, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, the Department of Defense and the Shirley and Stefan Hatos Foundation.
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