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Real Brain Data that Could Help Track and Treat Chronic Pain

Researchers are closer to understanding how the brain processes pain. While there is still much research to be done, the preliminary data holds promise for the development of new chronic pain treatments.

Recently published in Nature Neuroscience, the research findings were funded by the National Institutes of Health’s Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative and the Helping to End Addiction Long-term Initiative (NIH HEAL).

“By developing better tools to study and potentially affect pain responses in the brain, we hope to provide options to people living with chronic pain conditions,” says Prasad Shirvalkar, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of anesthesia and neurological surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, and the study’s lead author.

Using an implanted device, investigators recorded pain-related data directly from inside the brains of individuals with chronic pain disorders caused by stroke or amputation (phantom limb pain), as opposed to self-reported data from patients. Scientists were able to identify objective biomarkers of chronic pain and an area of the brain associated with chronic pain in individual patients.

The hope is that by better understanding how pain is represented in brain activity, healthcare providers will be able to modulate that activity to relieve physical and emotional suffering caused by chronic pain.

Walter Koroshetz, M.D., director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said, “We are hopeful that building from these preliminary findings could lead to effective, non-addictive pain treatments.”

Chronic pain is one of the largest contributors to disability worldwide.

REFERENCES/SOURCES: Shirvalkar P., Prosky J., Chin G., et al. “Prediction of Chronic Pain State Using Intracranial Neural Biomarkers” Nature Neuroscience May 22, 2023. DOI: 10.1038/s41593-023-01338-z

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Alysha Mahagaonkar