Although believed to be rare, cluster headaches are one of the most painful types of headache and, for that reason, are also sometimes referred to as “suicide headaches.”
Houstonians Pam and Jimmy Erwin know only too well how debilitating and life-changing cluster headaches and migraines can be. Their son, Will, suffered from cluster headaches. With no cure in sight and no escape from the constant pain, Will took his own life in 2010 at the age of 24. In his memory, his family established the Will Erwin Headache Research Foundation.
To help find a cure for these debilitating headaches, Memorial Hermann Mischer Neuroscience Institute at the Texas Medical Center (MNI) and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth have partnered with the Will Erwin Headache Research Foundation in Houston to open a new, first-of-its-kind national research center called The Will Erwin Headache Research Center. The Center was created with a $20 million pledge over 10 years from the Will Erwin Headache Research Foundation.
“We want to turn our tragedy into something that can help other patients and families who suffer from this terrible disease,” says Jimmy Erwin. “Our dream is to help the millions of people who deal with this pain every day of their lives, and the Center is just the beginning of seeing that dream come true.”
Leading The Will Erwin Headache Research Center will be Mark Burish, M.D., Ph.D. A physician, scientist and neurologist who is also fellowship trained in interventional pain management, Dr. Burish envisions setting up national collaborations, creating a network that can fight together, and eventually finding a cure for suicide headaches.
“These headaches are possibly the worst pain that humans experience,” says Dr. Burish. “This is a devastating disease that hinders your ability to function and disrupts your quality of life.”
Cluster headaches are known to occur in cyclical patterns or clusters. Groups of frequent attacks, known as cluster periods, may last anywhere from weeks to months. Treatment options for cluster headaches are extremely slim due to a lack of research and funding, and most patients suffer in extreme amounts of pain with very limited options.
Focused primarily on finding better treatments and potentially a cure for the disease, the Center will be staffed with a core group including a neurologist, nurse, biostatistician, data analyst and lab members. They will also work on developing several collaborations with scientists who can help study samples obtained in the lab.
“The Will Erwin Headache Research Center will focus on patients with intractable headaches and more rare conditions like cluster headaches. Research on such patients has lagged because no one has identified a large cohort of such patients,” said Dong Kim, M.D., Director of MNI and Professor and Chair at McGovern Medical School’s Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery. “By working collaboratively with other researchers across the country to identify and enroll such patients, we can focus on understanding why these headaches occur and design interventions to help. We hope to impact the lives of these patients by easing their pain once and for all.”
To learn more, visit The Will Erwin Headache Research Center.