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Clifford Woolf, MB, BCh, PhD

F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center

Clifford Woolf, MB, BCh, PhD is the Director of the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center at Boston Children's Hospital. After training for his MD and PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg South Africa, Dr. Woolf moved to England in 1978, where he worked at University College London for close on 20 years, latterly as a Professor of Neurobiology and as an Honorary Consultant at University College London Hospital. In 1997 Dr. Woolf moved to Boston and established the Neural Plasticity Research Group based in the Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care at the Massachusetts General Hospital and a part of the Neuroscience Program at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Woolf has made a number of fundamental contributions to the furthering of our understanding of pain mechanisms, most notably that pain hypersensitivity is due in large part to abnormal excitability of neurons within the central nervous system, the phenomenon of central sensitization. Central sensitization was first described in a seminal study by D.r Woolf published in Nature in 1983. The identification of central sensitization has led to new therapeutic approaches for managing pain. These include treating pain before it occurs – the concept of pre-emptive analgesia. The work has also established new analgesic drugs, including NMDA receptor antagonists. Apart from the discovery of central sensitization, Dr. Woolf has spearheaded discoveries of several other key pain mechanisms, the reorganization of synaptic architecture in the spinal cord after peripheral nerve injury (central sprouting), transcriptional changes in sensory and spinal neurons (phenotypic switches), and loss of inhibitory interneurons (disinhibition). These findings collectively provide a basis for a mechanistic understanding of pain. Dr. Woolf is currently spearheading a new mechanism-based approach to the diagnosis of pain and treatment of pain. Dr. Woolf’s work reveals that some forms of chronic pain, most notably neuropathic pain, effectively represent development of a pathology of the nervous system and that optimal therapy should be aimed at treating the underlying causes of pain (disease management) rather than just control of symptoms. In addition to his work on pain Dr. Woolf has shown that failure of regeneration of the adult central nervous system is due in part to a reduced intrinsic capacity of injured neurons to grow.

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