News / Health

Brain Scan Database Aims to Accelerate Chronic Pain Research

Brain Scan Database Aims to Accelerate Chronic Pain Researchi
X
November 06, 2013 11:26 PM
Many people around the world suffer from chronic pain - from pain in the joints to migraines to abdominal pain. Many scientists now believe that kind of pain - in whatever part of the body - has a common connection to the brain. The University of California Los Angeles is now developing an international database of brain images of hundreds of chronic pain patients. So far, they include people from North America and Europe. The goal: to accelerate research and develop better ways to treat chronic pain. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Elizabeth Lee
Many people around the world suffer from chronic pain - from pain in the joints to migraines to abdominal pain. Many scientists now believe that kind of pain - in whatever part of the body - has a common connection to the brain. The University of California Los Angeles is now developing an international database of brain images of hundreds of chronic pain patients. So far, they include people from North America and Europe. The goal: to accelerate research and develop better ways to treat chronic pain.

Carolyn Crow is no stranger to pain. “Sometimes I’ll just have a background dull ache, you know, all the time. Sometimes there’s cramping that’s so bad that it’ll just kind of almost double you over in pain.”  

It is a chronic pain caused by irritable bowel syndrome, an illness that currently has no cure.

UCLA Gastroenterologist Emeran Mayer said this disease is not the only cause of chronic pain in the body. And often patients often can only suffer. “One of the big things in pain research has been the failure to really come up with major breakthroughs in treatments.”

In hopes of finding new treatment options, Mayer is working on a new field of study that links chronic pain to biological changes in the brain. The Oppenheimer Center for Neurobiology of Stress at UCLA serves as the main hub for the first standardized database for brain imaging connected to chronic pain.   

“So I think a lot of people now agree with the concept that chronic pain is a brain disease. It may start anywhere in the body when you have acute pain, but once it becomes a chronic pain syndrome it does become a brain disease,” said Mayer.

Kirsten Tillisch, a professor in UCLA’s Division of Digestive Diseases, said the database allows doctors to take a more holistic approach in chronic pain research. “One of the failures of Western medicine and I think our research approaches is how we diced up the human body and how we’ve diced up research into these little silos that work very independently.”

Mayer said Western scientists are starting to look more closely at how mind, body and environment effect each other, and his database is one example.

“Big data, medicine, and analysis is essentially doing the same thing the ancient Chinese did by observation. We do it by observing and analyzing very large data sets and trying to see are there patterns in there that hang together by biologically,” said Mayer.

And Tillisch said new technology makes this possible. “You know when I started this type of work ten years ago there, we didn’t have computing power to do this type of analysis. In the brain alone in the last decade it’s really exploded what we could look at.”

The database currently holds the brain scans of more than 500 patients from North America and Europe, and UCLA is in the process of acquiring more. Mayer hopes to eventually include brain images of people from Asian countries, plus other biological markers that can help researchers understand pain and find treatments that can help improve the quality of life for patients such as Carolyn Crow.

“As a patient receiving care it makes you feel much better also to realize the doctor is treating you as a person and a whole being with many complicated parts,” said Crow.

Images of Crow’s brain also will be in the database. She hopes doctors might find a cure one day for her chronic pain.

You May Like

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Video Kenyans Lament Al-Shabab's Recruitment of Youths

VOA travels to Isiolo, where residents share their fears, struggles to get loved ones back from Somalia-based militant group More

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensionsi
X
May 26, 2015 11:11 PM
When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs