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iPOP-NL – Interdisciplinary Pain Research Platform

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Understanding chronic pain and improving treatment

Worldwide, an estimated one-fifth of the human population experiences chronic pain. Chronic pain is complex and cannot be solved by the medical profession alone.

iPOP-NL (in Dutch: interdisciplinair PijnOnderzoek Platform) is an interdisciplinary team, consisting of a linguist, psychologist, neurobiologist, immunologist, anaesthesiologist, engineer, veterinarian, behavioural and molecular scientist. Our aim is to understand chronic pain and improve treatment.

We combine knowledge and skills to do joint and innovative research. We seek a dialogue, within the team as well as with other disciplines, professionals, artists, chronic pain patients and other stakeholders.

For the future: building a platform

In the future we aim to continue collaboration, and expand the collaboration with new expertises and disciplines. We aim to be a platform for interdisciplinary research, welcoming new insights. So, are you a researcher or professional who works on chronic pain, or do you experience chronic pain yourself? Then we are interested in getting in touch with you!

The results, obtained in a relatively short time frame, already illustrate the power of our multidisciplinary approach.

In the upcoming year we aim to:

  1. Develop techniques to measure chronic pain (subtypes) via imaging and biosensors.
  2. Expand our collaboration by constructing a consortium to become a reference centre, connecting what is already there and to collaboratively take the next step to defeat chronic pain.

Overview all subjects.

Developing a joint language

Scientific disciplines vary widely in their way of thinking, their methods and their language. Therefore, it is essential for collaboration and communication to have a shared language. To this end and to facilitate future collaboration, we developed a metaphor that represents chronic pain as a mixing console.

Explaining the metaphor: representing chronic pain as a mixing console

Just like a real microphone can pick up sound (input) and convert it into an electrical signal, the nervous system detects a painful trigger caused by an injury (e.g., a damaged knee) and converts it into an (electrical) signal. That signal travels through the spinal cord and on to the brain. Normally the pain signal tells us something about possible ‘damage’ or dangers. However, in the case of chronic pain, the pain signal may be disproportionately large and/or prolonged, while the initial cause resolved, thus making it no longer informative or protective.

The electrical signal in a microphone eventually leads to sound that is heard and experienced (output). Similarly, the injury signal emitted from tissue damage/inflammation arrives in the brain where the painful experience occurs, with possible associated emotions such as fear, anxiety or depression.

A real mixing console can determine the relationship between microphone “input” and ultimately the room “output”. That relationship depends on how the various knobs and sliders on the mixer are set. Also, the relationship between the transmitted pain signal and the lived pain experience is ambiguous, and can be influenced by certain sliders and knobs. These may be biologic/genetic contribution, societal factors, behavior, life style, the way we express ourselves and our emotional state. The knobs and sliders – that also relate to the various scientific fields – reflect the complex interplay of these factors.

Overview all subjects.


We started our collaboration in 2021, with financial support of the Centre for Unusual Collaborations or CUCO. We also received grants in 2022 and 2023.


To continue this unique form of research and better help patients with chronic pain, we need your support for four concrete next steps:

  • How can we measure chronic pain?
  • What biological mechanisms are affected?
  • Can we design more patient-centered treatments?
  • Setting up platform for collaboration and knowledge exchange.

Will you also help?

Brief history: From project Defeating Chronic Pain to building the iPOP-NL Platform

2021 – Getting to know each other

The first step was to get to know each other and learn about each other’s discipline. We used the strength of our interdisciplinary team and patient interviews to:

  • construct an easy to understand and discipline-overarching metaphor-definition of chronic pain
  • increase awareness of chronic pain by participation in the Betweterfestival,
  • do retrospective analyses on existing patient data to uncover previously unknown subgroups of chronic pain patients,
  • develop “unusual” patient questionnaires to replace previous intake forms of the Utrecht pain centre,
  • perform research on animal species and humans to understand molecular pathways in (chronic) pain
  • make a podcast (Universiteit van Nederland) to raise awareness of chronic pain.

The results, obtained in a relatively short time frame, already illustrate the power of our multidisciplinary approach.

2022 – Outreach, our collaboration

In the second year, we really experienced the strength of our diverse team. We

  • developed techniques to measure chronic pain (subtypes) via imaging and biosensors
  • re-analyzed datasets from the UMCU pain centre and developed “unusual” patient questionnaires to replace previous (monodisciplinary/medical) ones. This led to the discovery of previously unknown subtypes of chronic pain patients which opened new insights into possible treatments
  • developed educational courses,
  • interviewed chronic pain patients
  • did various outreach activities: contributed to “Studium Generale”, and were interviewed for a public engagement magazine
  • gathered preliminary data on biomarkers/ behavioural profiles in several species with chronic pain.

This expanded our collaboration by constructing a consortium to become a reference centre, connecting what is already there and to collaboratively take the next step to defeat chronic pain.

2023 – Creating a platform

In 2023 consolidated our collaboration and worked on outreach to other disciplines and the public at large. More specifically we:

  • Used the output and experience of our interdisciplinary journey to increase our visibility (symposia, blogpost, connection with writer Sanne Bloemink and Huub Dijstelbloem (Director Institute for Advanced Study) to write spin-off grants.
  • Continued reaching out to stakeholders and ‘Playing with the trouble’ and ‘Power of one’ teams to integrate patient perspectives by co-developing gaming tools for patients and reaching the unseen. 
  • Created an on- and offline interdisciplinary expertise platform. The online platform can be found this website and via the LinkedIn account and LinkedIn group of iPOP-NL, where patients and professionals find information about our ongoing projects and where new conversations can start. Offline we organized meet-ups and symposia giving new seeds a chance to grow and to build upon our interdisciplinary experience.

Overview all subjects.

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We post regular updates on our LinkedIn page.