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This project will develop an interactive e-based module which will allow students across a range of science disciplines to both understand and also self-test their knowledge of the processes that occur to generate and relay pain stimuli around the body. This module will also allow the students to interact with e-learning material and also to undertake a degree of self testing. This module will subsequently be made re-available to the education community as 'learning objects'. These will be customisable by staff to match the academic requirements of students from a range of levels and disciplines.

The Biology of Pain

Background Project Final Report

Pain is an intimate aspect of the human condition. Very few people never experience a painful episode in their lives. Health and Safety statistics indicate that as many as 4.5 million working days per year are lost due to pain or pain-related phenomena such as anxiety or depression. These figures clearly indicate the significant impact that pain may have not only in economic terms but also in terms of the quality of daily life.

The biological importance of pain is well established.  From an early age we learn that pain is unpleasant and should be avoided.  Pain provides vital information about harmful or potentially harmful situations; in effect, it has a warning function and also therefore survival value. Understanding the nature of pain and trying to control pain have been aims of the medical and the professions allied to medicine for centuries. However, the variety of stimuli that can cause pain and the complexity of pain signalling processes in humans means that complete control of pain remains illusive.

Aims & objectives

The study of pain is an essential part of health and well-being and therefore forms an important part of a number of academic curricula. Students in courses ranging from biological sciences to dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, physiotherapy and veterinary science will study pain mechanisms as a greater or lesser part of their courses. In later professional practice they will seek to adopt strategies that avoid inflicting pain or reduce the pain already experienced by a patient.  To allow them to achieve these objectives it is essential that they have a good understanding of the anatomical, physiological and pharmacological principles that generate pain signals. This project therefore seeks to provide an interactive electronic resource that can be used by a variety of students to understand the essential biology of pain.

Project methodology

Typical end users would be undergraduate students and staff in a range of bio-disciplines ranging from anatomy to medicine. With this is mind the module will be based on an already-existing package that examines components of sensory physiology, in particular the physiology of pain. It is our aim to develop this package further by providing an interactive learning environment where students can explore areas such as the mechanisms of neuronal information flow around the human body (how signals are generated), the nature of the specific pathways that are used for pain signalling, the variety of external and internal stimuli that can cause pain and the mechanism of pain signal generation.  Students will also consider the cellular basis underlying the mechanisms of action of a number of commonly used analgesics. Importantly we also intend that they should be allowed the opportunity of experiencing a number of different learning styles (on-line material, animations and videos) and also the opportunity interacting with the learning package by providing a range of self-test and further study options. We will also be seeking to identify suitable images and descriptions to familiarise students with the topic area.

This module will subsequently be made re-available to the education community as 'learning objects'. These will be customisable by staff to match the academic requirements of students from a range of levels and disciplines. It will form a basis for the sharing of common sources of material and good practice.


An on-line electronic module allowing an in-depth exploration of the biology of pain. The material will be described as a series of re-useable learning objects that will allow staff to formulate discrete packages for students with a variety of educational needs.


Project Staff

  • Dr Niall Woods
  • Andrew Broughton
  • Paul Mahoney


Documents & Multimedia