MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The WVU Cancer Institute is exploring an innovative non-opioid alternative to relieve chronic pain caused by cancer treatments thanks to a generous equipment donation from The American Foundation for Opioid Alternatives (TAFFOA).
TAFFOA Executive Director and WVU alumna Sarah Dickinson worked with Richard Vaglienti, M.D., clinical director of the WVU Medicine Center for Integrative Pain Management, to provide a generator and 20 compression therapy devices – equipment valued at nearly $14,000. Dr. Vaglienti said the devices offer variable hot, cold, and compression therapy that will be used to treat peripheral neuropathy in cancer patients.
Chemotherapy drugs, radiation, and other cancer treatments can cause peripheral neuropathy by damaging nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms may include pain, tingling, burning, cramps, weakness, and other uncomfortable sensations in the hands and feet.
“One of the unfortunate results of cancer survival is peripheral neuropathy, and it’s very difficult to treat,” Vaglienti said. “For us to be able to investigate new ways to treat this very, very painful condition is important for us as pain physicians and for us as a comprehensive pain center for West Virginia University.”
The donation marks TAFFOA’s second institutional donation – and its first at WVU – to support research on opioid alternatives for pain. The Pittsburgh-based nonprofit organization provides wearable medical devices to student athletes, recovering addicts, military veterans, and more to treat pain at the source, thereby curbing or preventing the use of addictive opioid medications. Match One Medical founder Chaz Jannuzi and his business partner founded the charity in 2020, after they heard about student athletes struggling with pain while awaiting surgeries postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The donation is particularly meaningful to Jannuzi and Vaglienti because it supports the Dr. Rodney B. Dayo Cancer Pain Research Fund at WVU. Vaglienti and Yeshvant Navalgund, M.D., established the fund to support better pain treatment for cancer patients after Dayo, a friend and colleague, lost his battle with brain cancer in 2013.
Dr. Navalgund and Dr. Dayo trained under Vaglienti at WVU and later started a private pain management practice together in western Pennsylvania, where Navalgund connected with Jannuzi. When Navalgund learned that Jannuzi had founded a charity to provide medical devices for pain management, he encouraged Jannuzi to partner with Vaglienti and WVU.
Jannuzi said he is eager to make an impact on patients in West Virginia, which has one of the nation’s highest opioid overdose death rates.
“I hope this partnership helps grow awareness for our primary mission, which is to help people take less opioids,” Jannuzi said. “There are two sides to our mission: It’s helping people remain opioid naïve versus helping people that are already addicted. It’s a great cause, but [it’s better] if you can prevent addiction from happening by preventing someone from taking that first pill.”
TAFFOA’s gift was made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University.