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The Prince of Pain
The Prize

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The Prince of Pain
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In The Great War, Studs Turkel retells the infamous World War II story about the soldier who parachutes into a tree, breaks both legs and suffers such harrowing pain that his bowels empty. But he hangs there for days, unable to move, in excruciating pain, shamed into silence even as fellow GIs pass beneath him. Psychologists have used the tale to illustrate how exhaustion, fear and especially shame can turn even strong-willed patients mute and leave them lying silent on hospital beds while pain wracks their bodies -- even when narcotic relief is just a push of the call button away.

"I'd seen it happen," says Page. "I had been a practicing nurse for 10 years, and I'd seen kids lying there in pain after open heart surgery and I couldn't do anything to help them. We had all these concerns about narcotics, that they'd make patients addicts, all these myths, and I kept thinking about the kids lying on their backs after an operation: How did they feel? So I went to UCLA on a mission."

She ran into fellow missionary Liebeskind while taking his Psychobiology of Pain course and made a suggestion. "I proposed to John that we try an animal model to test the idea that pain after surgery can be physically damaging," Page remembers. "Previous studies had reported immune suppression after surgery but hadn't tried to do away with that suppression by using anti-pain medication. He was skeptical, I knew, but said let's go ahead anyway, and immediately took me into his lab."

Page entered a shop chockablock with geneticists hard at work -- researchers looking at gender differences, others studying pain inhibition and still others measuring opiate tolerance. Liebeskind's small lab brimmed with enough expertise to isolate immune cells, establish their effect on specific tumors and breed rats for precisely this purpose -- to carry out, in short, exactly the kind of trials Page was longing to run. Working with Shamgar Ben-Eliyahu and Raz Yirmiya, among others, Page rigged the studies and began playing with narcotic doses. "We quickly found a morphine dose that was pay dirt," she says. "It restored immune response in these rats completely."

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