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Christopher Donnelly

Assistant Professor in Anesthesiology
DUMC 3094, MS #50, Durham, NC 27710
3 Genome Ct. MSRB3 Rm #6142, Durham, NC 27710


I am a dentist and a scientist, with a multidisciplinary research program that spans the fields of pain and sensory biology, immunology, and cancer biology. I'm the director of the Neuroimmunology and Applied Pain Research Lab which conducts translational research focused on pain, inflammation, and immunity, and I'm also a member of the Center for Translational Pain Medicine (CTPM), the Duke Cancer Institute, and the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. 

My long-term career goal is to positively impact the way we treat pathological pain conditions such as cancer pain, chronic primary pain conditions (e.g., temporomandibular joint disorders), and neuropathic pain. I work towards this goal by participating in the education and training of future scientists and healthcare professionals, and by building and fostering a lab team that produces high-quality science focused on clinical translation. Developing new therapeutics for pathological pain conditions is our overarching goal, and I believe that meaningful translational advances require interdisciplinary team-science-based approaches to untangle the molecular pathways, cell types, and neuronal circuits involved in pain and inflammation using preclinical models and in clinical cohorts. Much of our current work is focused on the molecular crosstalk between sensory neurons and non-neuronal cell types, such as immune cells, glial cells, cancer cells, and microorganisms. We believe this will help unravel the mechanisms underlying the bidirectional causality of pain and inflammation, yielding new immunotherapeutics and neurotherapeutics to treat pain and painful inflammatory conditions.

Beyond my scientific interests, I am also active in educating future members of the healthcare workforce, including medical students and dental students. I serve as Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, where I am the course director of DENT 537: Introduction to Neuroscience for first-year dental students. I am also active in several professional societies including the United States Association for the Study of Pain, the International Association for the Study of Pain, the Society for Neuroscience, the American Association for Dental, Oral, and Craniofacial Research and its international affiliate (AADOCR & IADR), and the American Association of Immunologists.

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Assistant Professor in Anesthesiology · 2020 - Present Anesthesiology, Clinical Science Departments
Assistant Professor of Neurobiology · 2022 - Present Neurobiology, Basic Science Departments
Assistant Professor in Pharmacology and Cancer Biology · 2023 - Present Pharmacology & Cancer Biology, Basic Science Departments
Member of the Duke Cancer Institute · 2021 - Present Duke Cancer Institute, Institutes and Centers
Faculty Network Member of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences · 2022 - Present Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, University Institutes and Centers

Education, Training & Certifications

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor · 2018 D.D.S.
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor · 2018 Ph.D.