Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine

Larry Chu, MD, MS

Dr. Larry Chu

If you want to find assistant professor Dr. Larry F. Chu, you could check in the operating room, where he spends about 20 hours every week doing general or OB anesthesia. Or you could check in his clinical research laboratory or in the fMRI scanner, where he and his research assistants are investigating the complicated phenomenon of opioid-induced hyperalgesia and opioid withdrawal through Dr. Chu’s Opioid Physiology Lab. You might encounter him in the simulation center filming a new scene for the department’s online pre-residency training program, a project that he designed and manages with the help of Dr. Kyle Harrison.

  If you can’t find him in any of those places, he’s probably huddled in his office in front of his giant, multi-screen computer. Though he’s received very little formal training with technology, Dr. Chu has always had a predilection for projects involving graphic design, layout, video editing, and programming. What began as a hobby eventually blossomed into a significant component of his current career.
            “I think if we want to be at the forefront of anesthesia and medical education, we have to embrace technology,” explains Dr. Chu.

Making this passion official in 2009, Dr. Chu founded his second lab – the Anesthesia Informatics Media (AIM) Lab – through which he explores the impact of technology on medicine. In its short life, the AIM Lab has been extremely prolific, publishing manuscripts investigating the use of social networking in medical education or the impact of anesthesia residency programs’ websites on applicants’ decisions about which schools to attend.

            In recognition of his contributions to this new and interesting field, Dr. Chu was recently asked to host the fourth annual Medicine 2.0 Conference in 2011. “Med 2.0 attracts over 200 people from over 20 countries to come and talk about their work within the field of medicine as it intersects with social media, social networking and web 2.0 technologies,” says Dr. Chu.

            As if he weren’t busy enough, Dr. Chu has also elected to serve as the co-editor of the department’s magazine, the Annual Report. Dr. Chu assigns and edits articles, manages photographers, and produces the magazine himself. “I’ve always been interested in design and layout,” he demurs. “It’s just a hobby.”

            Although Dr. Chu thoroughly enjoys the time he spends on his so-called hobbies, his clinical research lab has always been his top priority. Using heat, cold, and electrical models of pain in combination with immune monitoring and functional MRI scans, Dr. Chu seeks to capture changes in patients’ responses to pain under the conditions of acute and chronic opioid use.

            More specifically, the Opioid Physiology Lab hopes to clarify the complicated relationship between tolerance and opioid-induced hyperalgesia – a poorly understood phenomenon in which increasing levels of opioids actually increase one’s sensitivity to pain.

            “If somebody has analgesic tolerance, the treatment for that is to continue increasing the dose of opioids, whereas if they have opioid-induced hyperalgesia the treatment is to taper them off of the opiod,” he explains. “So it’s really important we understand what’s happening to a patient who’s taking opioids chronically so that we can help them derive the maximum benefit of the medication.”

            Dr. Chu was recently awarded an R01 grant to explore the phenomenon of opioid withdrawal. He hopes that his research will make it easier for people to change pain medications or stop taking opioids. “Because opioids are the cornerstone medication for the treatment of pain it really makes a lot of sense to understand how those medications affect us physiologically in the short run and in the long term,” he says.

           With all of the projects he’s working on, Dr. Chu has very little time to relax. Perhaps because his parents own a Chinese restaurant, Dr. Chu has always appreciated food. When he can find time to get away from work, he enjoys visiting gourmet restaurants across the globe. 

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