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  • SCU Health Research receives half-million dollar NIH grant to advance neck pain study in collaboration with Dartmouth, Palmer universities
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SCU Health Research receives half-million dollar NIH grant to advance neck pain study in collaboration with Dartmouth, Palmer universities


WHITTIER, CA. – (Jan. 9, 2023)Southern California University of Health Sciences (SCU) researchers have received a half-million dollar National Institutes of Health (NIH) R15 grant to advance understanding of spinal manipulative therapy for neck pain. The grant is a two-year award study, with research work getting underway in January 2023.

NIH R15 grants support small-scale research projects at educational institutions that provide baccalaureate or advanced degrees for a significant number of the nation’s research scientists but that have not been major recipients of NIH support.

The grant and study is a renewal and continuation of an ongoing study that was first funded by the NIH in 2018, during which SCU researchers were investigating patients with low back pain.

The study brings together researchers and students from three universities, spanning the nation. James  Whedon, DC, MS, Director, Health Services Research at SCU is leading the project in collaboration with researchers at SCU, Dartmouth College, and Palmer College of Chiropractic.

“Our goals for the project are to strengthen our institutional research environment, enhance our capacity to conduct meritorious research, and increase the likelihood that participating student researchers will choose research careers,” said Dr. Whedon. “We expect the results to have a positive impact by accelerating the adoption of viable pathways for high value non-pharmacological spine care.”

The study aims to compare the safety, efficiency and costs of Spinal Manipulative Therapy (SMT), versus Prescription Drug Therapy (PDT), as measured by the likelihood of adverse outcomes, rates of escalation of care for neck pain, and treatment costs for older Medicare beneficiaries with neck pain (NP). Researchers will measure both short-term and long-term outcomes.

“The prevalence of Neck Pain (NP) – the fourth leading cause of disability – is reported to be 9.7% among U.S. adults aged 65+,” said Dr. Whedon. “Concerns about safety and escalating costs support the need to identify high value strategies for both short- and long-term management of NP. The need is critical for older Medicare beneficiaries, who tend to be comorbid, vulnerable to adverse events and prone to the utilization of high-cost specialist care. PDT and SMT are two evidence-based strategies used to manage NP, but their comparative value is unknown, particular for long-term use. Through this project, we will compare the value of SMT vs. PDT for management of NP, and simultaneously enrich the research environment at SCU by engaging students in a large-scale health services research project, thus facilitating the choice of a research career.”

Dr. Whedon says that the working hypothesis of the research team “is that among aged Medicare beneficiaries with NP, recipients of SMT receive care that is superior in value regarding safety, efficiency, and cost as compared to recipients of PDT. To test this hypothesis, we will analyze a nationally representative sample of Medicare claims data.”

The grant will provide funding to support two student researcher positions at SCU and two at Palmer College, providing providing numerous opportunities for the students to collaborate in hands-on research, and learn from esteemed chiropractic and integrative health researchers. Students will have multiple opportunities, both formal and informal, for mentoring by the project team members and other researchers, including distinguished leaders in the field of spine care research.

“Our plan to provide student doctors with hands-on exposure to NIH-funded research,” said  Dr. Whedon. We expect the project and experience to encourage students with developing clinical expertise in the biological sciences and complementary healthcare to pursue careers in clinical or health services research.”

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