April 29, 2020

Wayne State University adds new Endowed Chair in Addiction and Pain Biology

In addition to his new role, Mark Greenwald, Ph.D., is a professor and associate chair for Research in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences. Photo by David Dalton.

Nationally-recognized substance use disorder researcher Mark Greenwald, Ph.D., has been appointed as the inaugural Gertrude Levin Endowed Chair in Addiction and Pain Biology for the Wayne State University School of Medicine.

Dr. Greenwald, a Canton, Mich., resident, is a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences in the School of Medicine.

"The honor of the Gertrude Levin Endowed Chair in Addiction and Pain Biology is deeply meaningful to me,” he said. “This extremely generous gift recognizes and endorses a synthesis of two critically important areas of public health – substance use disorders and pain. Taken together, these two disease domains account for more than $1 trillion in annual costs to the U.S. economy.”

Endowed funds support the ongoing investigation of solutions to the most complex problems in health care, and enable the WSU School of Medicine to strengthen its mission-driven work to provide high-quality education, deliver exceptional clinical care and pursue pioneering research investigations.

The World Health Organization recognizes that substance use disorders, or SUDs, cause significant global burdens, associated with more years of life lost, known as premature mortality, and chronic pain primarily associated with more years lived with disability.

The Levin Chair serves as an example of the power of endowment at the School of Medicine. By providing specially-designated resources for research and teaching, endowed positions enable gifted faculty and researchers to excel. Chaired faculty leave an indelible mark on the intellectual and creative life of the entire university.

“The past few years have seen unprecedented overdoses and deaths from opioids in the United States and internationally, and these adverse outcomes overlap closely with pain problems and mental health issues,” Dr. Greenwald said. “Not to minimize in any way the horrible toll of the current COVID-19 pandemic, which has tragically taken about 60,000 U.S. lives as of today, but since 2016 we have been losing more than 60,000 U.S. lives each year to drug overdose deaths, and the majority are opioid-related. We have a considerable amount to learn about the neurobiological mechanisms that underlie substance use disorders and pain individually, and how they interact to produce the vexing problems that clinicians routinely face. Unfortunately, we also lack safe and effective therapies for many individual substance use disorders and pain conditions.”

The Levin Chair will support ambitious short- and long-term plans and actions. Dr. Greenwald is planning a comprehensive initiative, nested within the new Translational Neuroscience Institute at WSU. The initiative will encompass a full translational cycle of research, education and clinical care activities founded on existing and emerging collaborations across the campus and community, and across institutions, using a four-quadrant approach.

“Fully leveraging the Gertrude Levin Endowed Chair will create change for those suffering from chronic pain and addiction. With research efforts dedicated to cross-disciplinary solutions and treatments for chronic pain conditions, we can positively impact the nation’s opioid addiction crisis,” said Stephen Henrie, associate vice president of Development and Alumni Affairs for the School of Medicine.

“The Levin Chair is an integral part of our multi-disciplinary initiatives in brain health, translational research and neuropsychological care. Cross-cutting programmatic interests in the neurosciences, chronic pain, prescription drug misuse, and integrated behavioral healthcare will maintain synergy with existing faculty expertise and activities,” he added.

Research and training activities in the basic and clinical neuroscience quadrant will include pharmaceutical development and PK/PD evaluation, genetics/epigenetics, brain imaging and neuromodulation, as well as complementary/alternative therapies.

“We already have ongoing projects in these areas. I also hope to explore with colleagues how we can use ‘big-data’ OMICS and modeling methods,” he said.

Research and training activities will extend to a second quadrant in the translational cycle that addresses clinical translation, population and implementation sciences, and will include epidemiology, prevention and clinical trials. Dr. Greenwald and team have begun to collaborate with scientists, educators and clinicians at WSU, as well as like-minded hospital and industry partners, to develop work capacity.

The third quadrant of the translational cycle will involve using scientific evidence to promote treatment and recovery from SUDs and pain conditions in the community and region. The idea is to improve the “cascade of care” for patients that will increase access, linkage, engagement and retention in care for these chronic conditions. Potential partners include several WSU colleges, centers, institutes and departments, the Veterans Administration and other health care entities.

The final quadrant will involve evaluating and disseminating results and projecting the influence of these activities into the broader sphere, including collaborations with regional, state and national agencies; public and private insurance providers; fostering appropriate public policies; and training the next generation of clinician-scientists to effectively serve the community.

Dr. Greenwald’s clinical neuroscience research in the field of SUDs focuses largely on opioid-related problems and the development of treatments such as buprenorphine for opioid use disorder (OUD), with additional brain/behavior studies on cocaine, marijuana and nicotine. “However, my very first publication as a graduate student was on the behavioral assessment of chronic pain patients, and in recent years I’ve returned to conducting research on issues in pain. We’ve already been weaving together research on these areas. Importantly, there does not appear to be a major research center in the U.S. that is explicitly dedicated to the nexus of these two key disease areas,” he said.

Dr. Greenwald also serves as his department’s associate chair for Research. He leads the Michigan Collaborative Addiction Resources and Education System efforts at WSU to increase the number of certified addiction medicine specialists, and has published works in a variety of academic journals, including a paper in The Lancet on OUD treatment. He has expertise and involvement in the development of novel therapies of opioid addiction, including new forms of buprenorphine, a medication for OUD treatment.