Scientists have discovered the brain signals that show how much a person is in pain, raising hopes that those suffering from intractable chronic pain can be treated through brain stimulation therapies, Guardian reported.
These therapies are being used for those who are patients with major depression and Parkinson’s and will be brought to service for those who do not know what to do with their chronic pain.
Prasad Shirvalkar, a neurologist and lead researcher on the project at the University of California, San Francisco, said: “What we’ve learned is that chronic pain can successfully be tracked and predicted in the real world, while patients are walking the dog, or at home when they get up in the morning, and when they are going about their lives.”
The disease of chronic pain is regarded as a “silent pandemic” which affected nearly 28 million in the UK.
There are several causes of it including arthritis, cancer and back problems to diabetes, stroke and endometriosis.
Chronic pain has increased the use of potent opioids and there is no proper treatment for this condition. Health experts are rethinking how to treat those with this condition.
In the study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers implanted electrodes into four patients with intractable chronic pain after a stroke or the loss of a limb.
The devices allowed the patients to record activity in two brain regions — the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) — at the press of a button on a remote handset.
The participants were asked to complete the short surveys several times a day whenever they experienced pain and then take a snapshot of their brain activity.
After analysing the data, the researchers concluded that they could train an algorithm to predict a person’s pain based on the electrical signals in their OFC. “We’ve developed an objective biomarker for that type of pain,” said Shirvalkar.
In a separate work by the team, they found that very different brain activity accompanied acute or short-term pain, such as that produced by a hot object touching the skin.
Shirvalkar added: “Chronic pain is not just a more enduring version of acute pain; it is fundamentally different in the brain.”
“The hope is, as we understand this better, that we can use the information to develop personalised brain stimulation therapies for the most severe forms of pain.”
These findings could assist clinical trials investigating deep brain stimulation pertaining to chronic pain.
Prof Blair Smith, an expert in chronic pain at the University of Dundee who was not involved in the research, said that “lack of objective measures for pain makes it difficult for doctors to assess whether treatments are effective.”
“If this research is successfully extended, it offers not only the opportunity to develop objective measurement of some types of pain but also to enhance our understanding of the biological mechanisms.”
Smith also warned that “pain is a complex phenomenon with psychological, social and cultural factors, previous experiences of pain and expectations all feeding in.”