The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently awarded $4.5 million to a team of researchers led by Larissa V. Rodríguez, MD, professor of urology and obstetrics and gynecology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, to study the causes, risk factors, and potential treatments for interstitial cystitis, also known as painful bladder syndrome, and other urologic chronic pelvic pain disorders.

Rodriguez and co-investigator Emeran Mayer, MD, UCLA professor of gastroenterology, will work with basic science and neurobiologists at USC and UCLA in collaboration with the Laboratory of Neuroimaging at USC and all other NIH-funded sites that comprise the Multidisciplinary Approach to the Study of Chronic Pelvic Pain (MAPP) network.

The MAPP research network represents a multimillion research effort by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and the NIH to better understand the underlying causes of the most common chronic urological pain syndromes (UCPPS).

Little is known about the causes of UCCPS and, therefore, there is no reliably effective treatment.

But the MAPP study represents a major shift in research strategy. Unlike previous organ-specific research, the MAPP initiative requires investigators to conduct collaborative studies of UCCPS from a broadened systemic perspective.

The MAPP network includes researchers with clinical, epidemiological, and basic science expertise who are studying the epidemiology of disease, phenotyping of urological and non-urological symptoms, neuroimaging and neurobiology studies, identification of biomarkers, and characterization of pain pathways.

The shift in focus is supported by recent epidemiological studies showing that chronic pelvic pain disorders are frequently associated with other chronic pain disorders such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, which suggests the possibility of common underlying disease processes in these chronic disorders.

“We hope that by combining forces with other centers and taking this broad, multidisciplinary approach, we will make progress that will ultimately lead to strategies that will enable us to intervene – both to improve treatment and to prevent the condition from becoming chronic,” said Rodriguez.

— By Hope Hamashige