President’s Message: A Pillar of Research

Jul 20, 2018, 15:22 PM by Asokumar Buvanendran, MD

A Pillar of Research

Taking over as your president this past April, at our very successful Regional Anesthesiology and Acute Pain Medicine Meeting, I continue to be in awe of what a vibrant organization ASRA is. Just 3 years ago, ASRA had only two staff members working in a tiny office in Pittsburgh, embarking on a new and challenging adventure under self-management. Today, we have six staff supporting a dynamic, flourishing organization with 12 standing committees, 10 special interest groups (SIGs), and more than 4,500 members. As I take the baton from former President Oscar de Leon-Casasola, MD, I look forward to continuing to build on the organization’s successes and helping it to grow in impact and influence.

As an anesthesiologist specializing in pain medicine, my activities are divided between research, teaching, and clinical practice at Rush University, and I am involved in clinical and basic research in both acute and chronic pain. Research is truly one of my passions, and it will be a significant theme of emphasis throughout my presidency.

ASRA’s mission is built around the two pillars of education and research. Most ASRA members are aware of our popular annual meetings and weekend courses that continue to draw the highest quality faculty and large audiences who are very much appreciated. However, you may not be as familiar with all of the activities that we do around research.

In 2016, we increased the amount of grant money available through the ASRA research grants to $200,000 annually, and we hope to be able to continue to increase grant amounts as we attract funders and build our investment reserves. This increased funding allows us to provide funding for larger projects addressing both regional anesthesia and chronic pain medicine. We have also identified specific research priorities to help guide grant applicants in their development of projects that support our strategic plan. The Carl Koller Memorial Research Grant was first awarded in 1986 and is now given in even-numbered years. In 2016, we selected the Carl Koller Memorial Research Grant recipient, Harsha Shanthanna, MBBS, MD, MSc, and his team at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, who are studying postsurgical pain after thoracoscopic surgery.

The Chronic Pain Medicine Research Grant, first given in 2011, is typically awarded in odd-numbered years but was not awarded in 2015. In 2016, we selected Shalini Shah, MD, and her team at UC Irvine for a project that will look at the use of Botox in pediatric migraine patients

 A critical component of these grants is bringing the study findings back to our members following project completion. We require grant recipients to provide updates on their projects after 1 year at the relevant annual meeting, and we publish summaries of those updates on our website. For example, Carl Koller Memorial Research Grant recipient Barys Ihnatsenka, MD, shared an update on his exciting work using a mixed-reality simulator at the 41st Regional Anesthesiology and Acute Pain Medicine Meeting in 2016 in New Orleans.

Grant recipients are encouraged to submit their completed findings to Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine for publication. To see the published findings of past recipients, please visit research and click on the links under each grant.

The process of developing and submitting a grant application can sometimes be intimidating. ASRA has looked at some of the challenges of this process and identified a couple of ways to help ease the burden. One tactic will be a transition to a “letter of intent” (LOI) format for research grant applicants. Instead of completing the entire grant proposal for review, applicants will be asked to prepare an LOI describing their research goals. Members of the selection committees can then review and provide direction to support applicants in preparing full proposals.

Furthermore, although these grants are competitive, we intend to provide mentorship to applicants who have not been successful in receiving funds to help them develop their proposals further. I strongly believe that mentoring the next generation of pain medicine researchers is one of ASRA’s duties.

Another way that ASRA will be able to aid in developing quality research will be through the recently established Professional Development Committee. Led by Board Member Brian Sites, MD, this committee will provide unique mentoring opportunities such as aiding faculty members with presentation skills, helping new researchers develop hypotheses, and teaching the art of reading and interpreting scientific papers. At this writing, the committee is developing a survey to assess members’ interests and needs in these areas.

As a testament to the increasing influence of our organization and our members’ research, we received a record number of abstract submissions to our Regional Anesthesiology and Acute Pain Medicine meeting this spring. The previous record was 350, and we received a whopping 501 submissions for this meeting. We have invited our abstract authors to also submit videos summarizing their work. These videos allow dissemination of findings to our colleagues beyond the meeting as we work to ultimately better serve our patients.

Watching as a project goes from an LOI to a grant proposal to a study, from an abstract to a published paper and, ultimately, to clinical practice, is an inspiring and exciting process. I hope you will join me in supporting ASRA’s research efforts—whether it be through direct participation, reading the study findings, or even a donation to one of our funds. Our organization will continue to stand tall through the support of this key pillar.

What else can ASRA do to support the research pillar? If you have suggestions on this or any other aspect of ASRA, please e-mail me at And, thank you for your support of ASRA!

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