Research Faculty

Basic Research

Shao-Rui Chen, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine

Dr. Chen’s research is focused on the understanding of neurophysiological mechanisms of pain induced by nerve injury and neuropathy and the analgesic actions of opioids, ion channel modulators and NMDA receptor antagonists. She and her team study ion channels and G protein-coupled receptors expressed in the primary sensory neurons and the spinal cord using various animal models of pain. She has recently begun to explore the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying both opioid analgesic tolerance and neuropathic pain.

Patrick Dougherty, Ph.D.
Professor of Pain Medicine

Dr. Dougherty’s research interest focuses on determining the mechanism of chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. This project is composed of parallel studies conducted in human patients and in animals. In the human studies he and his team are conducting psychophysical studies to define the sensory fibers that are involved in this pain condition. The animal studies are being conducted to define the central neurophysiological mechanisms that are altered following chemotherapy and to determine agents that may provide a neuroprotective role. The current emphasis in each of these studies is to determine the role that immune-derived cytokines play in this pathogenesis.

Howard Gutstein, M.D.
Professor of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine
The primary focus of Dr. Gutstein’s research is to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of opioid tolerance and dependence and the interactions between pain and analgesic signaling. Opioids such as morphine are the most effective pain treatments currently available. However, these drugs are ineffective against many types of cancer pain, and with chronic use, the effectiveness of opioids decreases as tolerance develops. Dr. Gutstein has turned to the emerging field of proteomics in an effort to determine a priori which signaling adaptations can cause maladaptive changes in response to pain or narcotics. Combining the techniques of laser capture microdissection to analyze neurons expressing specific markers, two-dimensional gel electrophoresis to separate proteins and MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry for protein identification permits the lab to address these issues with a power never before imagined. The overall goal of these projects is to develop more effective therapies for treating chronic pain without causing the devastating side effects of tolerance, dependence and addiction.

De-Pei Li, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Critical Care Medicine
Dysfunction of autonomic system occurs frequently in patients during the course and therapy of diseases such as cancer and critical illness. Investigating neural control of circulation in cancer or cancer therapy is an important and relatively new issue to be addressed. Understanding the autonomic regulation of circulation will be helpful to develop better therapeutics and will benefit patients with cancer and critical illness. My research interest is to enhance our understanding the cellular mechanisms involved in the central regulation of autonomic function and blood pressure in normal and disease conditions. The ongoing projects are to investigate the neural hormonal regulation of sympathetic activity and blood pressure in normal and hypertensive animals. These projects are funded by the American Heart Association. The information obtained from the research works may provide a rationale for developing new targeting drugs and improved clinical therapeutic procedures for treatment of diseases related to cardiovascular function.

Hui-Lin Pan, M.D., Ph.D.
Director for the Center for Neuroscience and Pain Research
The N. G. and Helen T. Hawkins Distinguished Professor and Deputy Division Head for Research

Dr. Pan’s research is primarily aimed at understanding cellular and molecular mechanisms of chronic neuropathic pain and opioid analgesic tolerance. A strong interest in our laboratory is determining neuroplasticity in primary sensory neurons and the spinal cord dorsal horn neurons following nerve injury and chronic opioid administration. We are also studying analgesic mechanisms of opioids and other G protein-coupled receptors in the regulation of synaptic transmission at the spinal cord level. Additionally, we are studying mechanisms of hypothalamic control of the sympathetic nervous system and autonomic function using brain slices and animal disease models.

Zhizhong Pan, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Pain Medicine
Current research in Dr. Pan’s lab focuses on the functions and interactions of opioid receptors, and the neural mechanisms underlying acute and chronic opioid-induced effects, including opioid analgesia, opioid tolerance and opioid addiction. His research uses multiple approaches, including cellular physiology, systems behavior and molecular biology techniques, to gain insight into how opioid drugs act and how to improve opioid treatment of cancer pain and drug addiction. Dr. Pan’s research has been published in several high-impact journals. He is currently an active member of graduate faculty in the Neuroscience Program of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Texas-Houston.

Hongmei Zhang, M.D.
Instructor of Pain Medicine
Dr. Hongmei Zhang’s research focuses on defining the effects of the major pro-inflammatory cytokines TNFα and IL-6 and the chemokine MCP-1 on the spontaneous neurophysiological properties of identified excitatory, inhibitory, and spinal projection neurons in normal and neuropathic pain mice. This will be done using whole cell patch clamp in transgenic mice expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) at either the vesicular glutamate transporter 1 (vGluT1) or at the glutamic acid decarboxylase 1 (GAD67) promoter site, to determine glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons, respectively, and also injected with PAG retrograde tracer (DiI). This project will also test the hypothesis that nerve injury induces plasticity in the effects of IL-6 and MCP-1 on GAD 67+, vGluT1+ and spinal projection neurons.

Haijun Zhang, M.D.
Instructor of Pain Medicine
Dr. Haijun Zhang's research focuses on understanding the spinal cord mechanisms underlying chemotherapy-related neuropathic pain. The spinal dorsal horn provides the first link in the central nociceptive pathways where nociceptive information is integrated within the neurons and glial cells. Chemo-neuropathy may result from the induction and activation of cytokine signaling pathways that in turn influences neuronal activities and transporter function of glia, leading to physiological changes and altered sensory processing. This study includes in vitro recordings from both spinal astrocytes and neurons in the context of proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines. The involvement of second messengers such as p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) is also investigated by immunohistochemistry and electrophysiology studies.  


Clinical Research

Joseph L. Nates, M.D., M.B.A.
Professor of Critical Care Medicine and Deputy Chair
Dr. Nates’ areas of research have been fundamentally linked to his clinical practice. As a result he has moved from his original basic and clinical sciences research in neuro-trauma to oncological critical care. Other areas of research have been and continue to be ICU administration, high frequency ventilation in ARDS, thromboelastographic description of coagulation abnormalities in SIRS/sepsis, nutritional assessment by indirect calorimetry and infection control.

Lakshmi Koyyalagunta, M.D.
Associate Professor of Pain Medicine

Dr Koyyalagunta’s research interest is in identifying risk factors associated with opioid misuse in cancer pain patients. In collaboration with members of American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (ASIPP), Dr. Koyyalagunta is currently doing a meta-analysis of opioids for cancer pain.  She is the lead investigator of this project with a nationwide group of authors.  She is an active member of the Texas Society of Anesthesiologists and has served as a delegate/alternate delegate in this prestigious organization for the past eight years.  She is also a member of the Texas Pain Society where she has served as a member of a task force to address the pill mill issue in the State of Texas.

Peter Norman, M.D.
Professor of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine
Dr. Norman’s research interests lie in pharmacologic control of hemorrhage and preemptive analgesia. He has conducted clinical studies with aprotinin to determine its effect on reducing intraoperative hemorrhaging. He is interested in understanding the relationship between the use of aprotinin and its relationship to cancer patients’ perioperative outcomes.

Diane Novy, Ph.D.
Professor of Pain Medicine

Dr. Novy’s research interests are in the areas of affective disorders and pain. Dr. Novy has authored over 75 peer-reviewed articles and written numerous book chapters on psychological approaches to pain medicine. She is the lead educator on team training for pain medicine fellows at MD Anderson. She is the co-director of a University of Texas Telecampus Web-based course, Interdisciplinary Approaches to Pain Medicine. She serves disabled citizens of Texas through her board appointments on the Texas Rehabilitation Commission and Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services.

Kristen J. Price, M.D.
Professor of Critical Care Medicine and Chair
Dr. Price’s current efforts are focused on the outcome of acute leukemia patients who have respiratory failure and require mechanical ventilation. The mortality in these patients is very high, yet little research has been done in this area. Dr. Price is the primary investigator in a prospective study to identify prognostic indicators at the time of intubation and mechanical ventilation in acute leukemia patients. Identifying these predictors can aid the intensivists and the oncologists in determining survival chances in this patient population. Dr. Price’s previous research focused on the development of outcome statistical models for ICU cancer patients.

Marc Rozner, Ph.D., M.D.
Professor of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine
Dr. Rozner’s clinical research interests are in the evaluation of cardiac pacemakers and implanted defibrillators during the perioperative period. His current research seeks to understand the pre-operative status of these devices in patients; how these devices assist patient response to therapeutic radiation treatment, and the association of pacemakers with post-operative morbidities. Additionally, Dr. Rozner serves as a co-chair on the institution’s Clinical Research Committee ensuring clinical research protocols meet the rigorous scientific standards of the MD Anderson Cancer Center.