Char Palfrey was awarded a Brain Research UK PhD studentship in March 2020 to pursue research to help understand the causes of migraine, and returned to the University of Leeds this month to get started.
Migraine is one of the most common neurological conditions, affecting around one in seven people. It is a complex and disabling disorder with a variety of symptoms, usually featuring a severe headache. Other symptoms include disturbed vision, nausea and increased sensitivity to light and sound.
Whilst migraine can be treated effectively in some people - with drugs that reduce the severity of attacks, or drugs that can prevent attacks - these drugs do not work for everyone and do not cure migraine. New, more effective treatments are desperately needed.
Char's research focuses on understanding what goes on in the nerve cells of migraine patients to give rise to such intense headache, to gain insight as to what might be the most effective type of medicines.
During a migraine, activated nerve fibres in the head send pain signals to the brain and release an inflammatory substance, CGRP, which sensitises nerves, increasing pain signalling.
In groups of nerve cells further down the spine, research has suggested that a particular protein, called ANO1, has a role in increasing the activity of pain nerves, thus increasing the perception of pain.
Char’s research applies that hypothesis to groups of nerve fibres in the head that are activated during migraine – to investigate whether this protein plays a role in migraine, and whether it could be targeted by drugs to reduce pain signalling and migraine pain.
Headache has been described as the most common medical complaint known to man. There are hundreds of different types of headache and facial pain disorders, including migraine. Due to their prevalence, these disorders are responsible for almost three quarters of neurological-related disability. A lack of research investment has hampered progress towards the development of effective treatments. This is why we have made headache and facial pain a priority research area.
We hope that, by deciphering the mechanisms underlying migraine pain, Char's research will open up a new avenue of treatment options, increasing the chances of ultimate success in helping patients and finding a cure for migraine.
Equally important, through this PhD studentship, we are enabling a promising young researcher to pursue their interest in this important area of research, building up much-needed research capacity in this field.