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MRP strategic opportunity: Measures for pain research

Development of methods for the improvement of data access and quality for use in pain research


MRC and NIHR welcome the publication of the Versus Arthritis Research Roadmap for Pain, and the prioritisation of 14 research targets to improve pain research and clinical support. In recognition of the importance of this area, the MRC-NIHR Methodology Research Programme is working with Versus Arthritis to support research improving the accessibility, quality or utility of measures that underpin pain research.

For the purposes of this opportunity, methodologies with a primary focus in preclinical experimental models of pain are considered out of scope.

The prevalence of chronic pain in the UK is estimated to be from ~20% (mild) to ~5% (severe). People living with chronic pain engage primary care services more frequently, are subject to high levels of multi-morbidity and record reductions in all dimensions of health and quality of life.

Although mechanisms and phenotypes of pain are complex, its consideration is often secondary within healthcare and research contexts – creating fragmented and suboptimal approaches to how pain is measured and recorded. Equally, standardisation of the measures and outcome domains in pain assessment is limited by requirements to balance data quality with the ease and timeliness of its collection.

Therefore, advances are needed to optimise the accessibility, characterisation and utility of pain-relevant data - for research, clinical and policy use.

Strategic opportunity

MRC, NIHR and Versus Arthritis seek to support the development of innovative methods that address at least one of the following headline opportunities. Please note, this opportunity is not limited to arthritis-associated pain, and all types of pain will be considered equally in funding decisions.

(i) Advances in theory and practice of pain-relevant measures

  • minimum data requirements and/or inference approaches for insight at population level
    • validity, equality and bias within outcome measures
    • assessment of utility across research, specialist practice and primary care
  • interoperability, transportability of measures across different domains and scales of pain
  • surrogate markers for situations of impaired patient-reporting and methods for including correlates of pain within comparisons
  • influence of pain or pain relief on attention, memory or other cognitive measures
  • measurement and recording of behavioural and social outcomes
  • measurement reactivity
  • relevance for global health; international generalisability.

(ii) Improving the value and use of existing research, clinical registry and other observational or administrative datasets for pain research, population and/or precision approaches

  • approaches to coding, phenotyping and nomenclature
  • population identification and characterisation
  • longitudinal follow-up from observational, administrative and social media data
  • biomarker validation; bridging mechanistic and patient-reported outcomes
  • management of multi-dimensionality; approaches to synthesis of pain measured in different ways
  • multimorbidity
  • workplace outcomes – economic, health and intervention assessment, presenteeism and productivity, equality and validity across different types of employment (for example full-time, contract, gig economy), evaluation of rehabilitative interventions
  • research requirements for administrative data, data quality, trust, natural experiments, influence on policy and measuring spillovers from policy change.

Proposals do not need to target all of the challenges listed above.

Development of new pain measures will not be supported within this opportunity.

Where appropriate, patient engagement with methodology proposals is encouraged and should be considered within the case for support. Further advice on public and patient involvement in research can be found in Arthritis Research: Patient and public involvement researcher's guide.

Application process and schedule

Applications will develop methodological advances for near-term deployment but do not necessarily need to demonstrate impact on clinical decision making within the lifetime of the project. However, applicants must clearly articulate a clear pathway towards broader uptake and implementation of methods, and assurance of longer-term impact.

Applications for projects are invited through the Methodology Research Programme panel, to its regular deadlines and meetings. These will be in competition with other applications received, but the panel will be mindful of the strategic importance of this area.

In accordance with the remit of the MRP applications should focus specifically on supporting methods development research where the proposed outputs are generalisable beyond an individual case study and where methods development is the primary purpose of the research. Proposals are encouraged to include exemplar case studies which demonstrate the application of the developed methods.

Budget requests to the MRC of over £500,000 must receive written approval from the programme manager in advance of application.

Please note: Due to co-funding requirements, this strategic opportunity will be time limited to November 2018, June 2019 and November 2019 Methodology Research programme calls.  Please note, the November 2019 call is subject to confirmation and MRC reserves the right to amend or withdraw this call before 2 October 2019.

Applications will be welcomed beyond November 2019 calls, but will not receive prioritisation within funding decisions.

Contact and guidance

The titles of all applications in response to this strategic opportunity should be prefixed with 'HPM:' when filling out the Je-S form, for example “HPM: A method for…”

It is essential to discuss your proposals with MRC head office at an early stage. All applications must be approved by the Methodology Programme Manager prior to submission. Please contact:

Dr Samuel Rowley

Email: Samuel.Rowley@MRC.UKRI.org