TULSA, Okla. – Starting in February 2023, researchers at the University of Tulsa are launching a study using Native American participants with hopes of determining why Native people are at greater risk for chronic pain.
The research project is a continuation of prior TU studies looking at pain inequity among Native Americans. Calls for participants in the current project is now starting. Research participants must be adults age 18 and older, identify as Native American, must be generally healthy and not experiencing chronic or persistent pain.
Selected participants will have four in-person visits at the TU campus for research activities, as well as interviews in a process that could be 3-5 hours each day. They will be paid a stipend for completing all four visits and have nearby lodging covered if traveling from outside Tulsa.
The narrative for the project reads: “Native Americans experience higher rates of chronic pain than the general US population, yet the mechanisms for this pain disparity are poorly understood. This study proposes that exposure to environmental racism (a form of structural racism and discrimination) increases psychological stress, heightens somatic threat sensitivity, and increases allostatic load to produce a unique Native American pain risk phenotype (‘silent’ spinal sensitization, i.e., sensitization of spinal pain neurons that does not result in sensitization of pain experience). Results from this study will help inform public policies, as well as identify mechanistic targets for interventions, to reduce the Native American pain disparity.”
Working on the project is Jamie Rhudy, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor in the TU Department of Psychology, as the primary investigator on the project. Joanna (Mashunkashey) Shadlow (Osage) is a psychology professor at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa and previously worked on prior research with Rhudy while also working at TU and will also be a co-investigator on this project.
Travis Lowe, TU associate professor of sociology, is also joining the project as a co-investigator and said he will be “looking at the ways we can measure structural racism and discrimination.”
Rhudy said the continuing project is funded by a National Institutes of Health $514,891 grant for the first year for research on Native American pain inequity. According to an article by TU, the project, known as the Oklahoma Study of Native American Pain Risk (OK-SNAP), continues the professor’s previous study, which proposed that Native Americans experience chronic pain at higher levels than any other ethnic group in the United States. Rhudy’s prior investigation confirmed this suggestion and found that Native Americans develop chronic pain at nearly three times the rate of non-Hispanic whites.
Shadlow said Oklahoma is a great location to conduct the first-of-its-kind study on chronic pain in Native Americans due to its diverse population with 39 federally recognized tribal nations in the state. She said outreach efforts to visit tribal communities across the state will also take place to inform people of the study and to start recruiting prospective participants.
In taking the research project forward, Rhudy said the study will also look at participants’ stress factors, which includes interview questions touching on their home environments, as well as stressors. “They’ll come into the lab for four days to help us understand these questions,” Shadlow said, adding the grant resources will be used to pay for the participant stipends and lodging during the four days.
During the TU lab visits, participants will be interviewed and go through a series of tasks to see how people respond to pain. Rhudy said the interviews will be transcribed and participants will also take stress tests, which include tasks such as giving a speech to experimenters and mental math tasks.
Rhudy said participants will also have relaxation activities including watching neutral TV show material and read magazines. There will also be follow-up visits with the participants every six months as part of data collecting, Rhudy said.
After the study data is analyzed, Rhudy and Shadlow said the intent is to disseminate the findings to both the scientific community, as well as respective Native American communities.
Shadlow said she hopes the project findings bring possible implications for policy decisions to address disparities and issues that may be contributing to chronic pain among Native Americans.
For more information on the research project, individuals can call (918) 631-2175 or (918) 631-3565 or email email@example.com