Brain signals can be used to detect how much pain a person is experiencing, which could overhaul how we treat certain chronic pain conditions, a new study has suggested.
The research, published in Nature Neuroscience today, is the first time a human’s chronic-pain-related brain signals have been recorded. It could aid the development of personalized therapies for the most severe forms of pain.
Chronic pain, defined as pain that lasts for three months or more, affects up to one in five people in the US—more than diabetes, high blood pressure, or depression. It can sometimes affect people after a stroke or limb amputation. Because we still don’t really understand how it affects the brain, it’s also very difficult to treat. Quality of life can be severely affected.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, implanted electrodes in the brains of four people with chronic pain. The patients then answered surveys about the severity of their pain multiple times a day over a period of three to six months. After they finished filling out each survey, they sat quietly for 30 seconds so the electrodes could record their brain activity. This helped the researchers identify biomarkers of chronic pain in the brain signal patterns, which were as unique to the individual as a fingerprint.