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Gary W. Donaldson, Ph.D.

Languages spoken: English

Academic Information

Departments: Anesthesiology - Professor, Nursing - Adjunct Professor

Academic Office Information

Professor and Director, Pain Research Center
Department of Anesthesiology

Member, Huntsman Cancer Institute
Cancer Control & Population Sciences

Adjunct Professor, College of Nursing

My background is as an applied multivariate statistician and psychologist working to understand how pain interacts with biobehavioral and psychosocial factors to limit functioning both in cancer patients and those with chronic disabling conditions such as fibromyalgia. I have served as the director of the biostatistics cores of two large NCI-funded program projects at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Utah, and have served as PI of two projects at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center investigating longitudinal quality of life outcomes in patients receiving hematopoietic stem cell transplants for rescue from hematological malignancies, and have also led two projects that developed innovative quality of life measurement in chronic pain and cancer populations. These studies of innovative measurement approaches led to the development of CAPA, the Clinically Aligned Pain Assessment, now widely used in the University of Utah Hospital. At the Pain Research Center, we investigate the perception, causes, and consequences of pain. This requires a broad view, recognizing that pain is a complex multidimensional experience that cannot be reduced to pain “signals” traveling this way and that through the nervous system. Rather, pain is an active, dynamic construction that depends not just on sensory input but also on psychological processes, personal history, one's social and cultural environment, and the unique individual attributes that help form and sustain the perception of this pernicious state. The complex multidimensional construct of pain is difficult to study without an overarching methodological perspective. Consistent, incisive analytical methods can elaborate theoretical understanding of pain and its co-evolving symptoms. My interests in particular concern better ways to measure pain, understand its causes, and faithfully represent the vast variation in individual responses to objectively similar painful situations. New developments in statistical and causal modeling have been critical for these investigations, and many of my publications are either applications of these methods or didactic illustrations of the new methods in both cancer and chronic pain populations. Individual differences in treatment response are the rule, not the exception. Explaining the origin and development of these individual differences has been a central motivating passion of my career. "What works for whom, and why?" is a question at least as important to patients as whether a treatment has an average benefit in the population. When a benefit is seen for a treatment, new causal methods can now let us begin to answer Judea Pearl's trenchant question, "Did the benefit happen because of, despite, or regardless of, the treatment?" Answering these questions provides deep understanding and a revitalized basis for extending the quality and quantity of every individual life.

Education History

Fellowship University of Denver
Predoctoral Fellow
Doctoral Training University of Denver
Experimental Psychology
Undergraduate University of Arizona
Undergraduate Harvey Mudd College
Math, Physics