Clifford J. Woolf

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Clifford J. Woolf is professor of neurology and neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and director of the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center at Children’s Hospital Boston. He has added greatly to the understanding of pain.


Woolf was born in South Africa and studied medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in the early 1970s, where he studied transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, completing M.B., Ch.B. and Ph.D. degrees. With his wife, Fredia, he then emigrated to the United Kingdom where he held medical and research positions at Middlesex Hospital and University College London (UCL), working at the latter under the tutelage of Patrick D. Wall.[1]

At UCL, Woolf described central sensitization of pain, demonstrating that the phenomenon can be measured in nerve cells in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, involves the neurotransmitter N-methyl-D-aspartate, can be moderated by opiates, and contributes to tactile allodynia and secondary hyperalgesia. At a time when surgeons and anesthesiologists routinely only administered analgesia after the patient complained of severe pain, he collaborated on clinical trials investigating the benefits of giving morphine analgesia prior to surgery, to preempt post-surgical central sensitization. His work is largely responsible for the current practice of treating pain early (preventive analgesia). He became a Professor of Neurobiology at UCL.[1]

In 1997 Woolf moved to Boston and assumed the Richard J. Kitz Chair of Anesthesia Research at Harvard Medical School and became Director of the Neural Plasticity Research Group in the Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).[1]

Using subtractive hybridization and microarrays his laboratory and research teams have demonstrated the involvement of hundreds of genes in pain-related conditions, collaborated in the cloning of a novel nociceptor-specific sodium channel, described the intracellular signaling pathways and ion channel/receptors that mediate central sensitization and shown that cyclo-oxygenase is produced in the spinal cord by peripheral inflammation.[1]

Woolf was awarded the 2004 American Society of Anesthesiologists award for excellence in research.[1]

In February 2010 Woolf became the director of the F.M. Kirby Neurobiology Center at Children’s Hospital Boston and professor of neurology and neurobiology at Harvard Medical School.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e Zapol WM (2004) American Society of Anesthesiologists Newsletter Archived 2011-08-11 at the Wayback Machine. Vol. 68 No. 8. Access date 15 May 2011.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2011-05-15.