MENLO PARK, Calif., Dec. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- The results of a new study conducted at Stanford University School of Medicine and Omneuron, Inc. suggest that an investigational technology approach called neuroimaging therapy may help patients learn to control activation of regions of the brain involved in pain perception in order to reduce pain.
In the study, pain patients showed an average 64 percent decrease in pain ratings on the McGill Pain Questionnaire (MPQ) and an average of 44 percent decrease in pain ratings on a visual analog scale (VAS). Healthy subjects showed an average 23 percent enhancement in control over pain intensity and a 38 percent enhancement in control over pain unpleasantness when compared to subjects in control groups who did not receive training to control their brain activation. The study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and Stanford University.
During neuroimaging therapy, patients are able to watch the activity in their own brain moment by moment using real-time functional MRI (rtfMRI), and are taught to use that information to control activation in key areas of their brain, such as regions involved in pain perception or pain regulation. This may ultimately lead to a novel method to decrease pain. The approach is non-invasive and does not require drugs or radiation exposure. Neuroimaging therapy is an investigational technology approach being tested by investigators at Omneuron, Inc. and Stanford University School of Medicine, and has not yet been cleared as safe or effective by the Food and Drug Administration.
"Research suggests that people may be able to strengthen the functioning of regions of the brain through cognitive exercise just as they can strengthen a muscle through physical exercise," said Christopher deCharms, PhD, a developer of the application of rtfMRI to neuroimaging therapy and chief scientific officer of Omneuron, Inc. "The initial pilot study using neuroimaging therapy to control pain shows therapeutic promise, but should be viewed with caution until ongoing investigations are completed in larger numbers of subjects, and with long-term follow-up results."
The study was designed to determine whether people could learn to control an area of the brain's internal pain system, the rostral anterior cingulate cortex, or rACC. Through targeted training, eight healthy subjects and eight chronic pain patients in the study were trained to strengthen the functioning of the rACC to explore whether this produced a new form of pain control. Both patients with severe chronic pain and healthy subjects receiving an artificial painful stimulus were able to significantly decrease their pain. Subjects who attempted similar exercises without real time fMRI were not able to similarly control their pain.
"The study results indicate the potential for treating chronic pain without the use of surgery or drugs," said Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, assistant professor of anesthesia and pain medicine, and principal investigator at Stanford University School of Medicine. "Pain is a neurological process, and this technology approach may eventually provide patients with the opportunity to take control of the brain and thereby positively impact their medical condition."
Chronic pain is one of the most common and debilitating health problems today, affecting one out of every three Americans, according to the American Chronic Pain Association.
The study is being published in the December 20 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
About Omneuron, Inc.
Omneuron, Inc., based in Menlo Park, Calif. is a life sciences technology company focusing on novel MRI imaging technologies and their therapeutic applications. Christopher deCharms, PhD, a neurophysiologist trained at the University of California, San Francisco, founded Omneuron in 2002 to develop applications of functional neuroimaging.