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Fall 2007

New UCSF Program Seeks Cause and Cure for Migraines

I am pleased to note that UCSF is launching a truly unique and comprehensive migraine research and treatment program. On the research side, we are creating a program that bridges studies in genetics, cell biology, brain imaging and patient-based research in a powerful neuroscience environment in order to make a difference at the bedside for people who suffer from migraine pain. On the clinical side, this is an opportunity to mobilize science to pioneer a new approach to care for people with migraine.

Migraine is the disorder that is least respected among the major neurological diseases. Migraine headaches can be incredibly life-disrupting. For many, the pain is all-consuming. However, when migraine patients go to an emergency room, they may undergo a barrage of tests, only to be told 19 times out of 20 that because there is no underlying disorder, the headache is benign. But patients know that the pain is anything but benign. This is why emergency room surveys consistently show that patients are less satisfied when they go to the ER for a migraine than they are for any other disorder.

Though migraine is a major cause of disability and suffering, there has not been a first-rate program anywhere in the United States dedicated to finding the cause and cure for migraine. With the last decade's advances in genetics, cell biology and imaging, all the pieces are now in place for an assault on the problem.

Leadership is the key to creating a great program. You can have a great plan, but without leadership, it ultimately won't be successful. UCSF has a history of leadership in migraine and pain research, spearheaded by investigators credited with mapping the pathways in the brain that mediate pain, gaining an understanding of the genes and proteins responsible for some forms of pain, and understanding the basis of the placebo response. In migraine research, there has always been one great leader: Peter Goadsby, M.D., Ph.D., DSc. It has taken years, but we have recruited him and his team from the University College London to lead the effort at UCSF.

The clinical component will be a key part of the new effort. This year, we are constructing a program with a responsive, compassionate, state-of-the-art clinical center for people with migraine and severe head pain problems. Construction of the outpatient service is beginning now and we are planning an inpatient, science-based clinical service for interventions in people with the most severe head pain problems. We are very excited and very confident that this will be an enormous success.

Stephen L. Hauser, M.D.
Robert A. Fishman Distinguished Professor and Chair
Department of Neurology

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