Michelle Failla
September 15, 2023

College of Nursing’s Failla awarded $2.6 million NIH grant

Dr. Failla to study pain in adults with autism

The National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH/NINDS) has awarded Michelle Failla, PhD, research assistant professor at The Ohio State University College of Nursing, a five-year, $2.6 million grant to understand how pain is experienced by adults with autism.

The prestigious R01 grant supports Failla’s study entitled “Measurement and mechanisms of pain in autistic adults.” Failla and her team will conduct carefully-designed, laboratory-based tests with safety measures incorporated to understand how autistic and non-autistic adults between the ages of 18 and 40 respond to pain. The tests will involve applying pressure and heat to measure sensitivity and pain thresholds, complemented by surveys to assess pain, mood and general health. The team will also use MRI technology to see how the participants’ brains react to pain.

“Most health care providers might ask what your pain is on a scale of 1-10, but we’re trying to find out if there is a better scale for autistic adults,” said Failla, who will serve as principal investigator. “We're also looking into factors that might contribute to more long-lasting pain in autistic adults. For example, autistic people are often more sensitive to things like clothing tags or bright lights, and we want to know if these sensitivities affect how they feel pain.”

Failla said the team’s ultimate goal is to improve pain management and overall health for autistic individuals, including develop new methods for assessment.

“Everyone deserves to have their pain adequately managed,” Failla explained. “For autistic adults, who may be experiencing more pain than others and have more difficulty communicating about their pain, it is important that we develop proper tools to address their pain. Pain is often the first sign of illness or injury, so differences in how people feel or express pain can lead to delays in diagnosing and treating serious health conditions.”

Co-investigators from Ohio State who are joining Failla in this work include three affiliate faculty with the Nisonger Center, a federally-funded University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities: Luc Lecavalier, PhD, Katherine Walton, PhD and Jewel Crasta, PhD. Alai Tan, PhD, research professor at the College of Nursing, will serve as the statistician.


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