A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals scientists not only were able to “see” pain on brain scans, but also measure it’s intensity and tell whether a drug was relieving it. “Many people suffer from chronic pain and they’re not always believed. We see this as a way to confirm or corroborate pain if there is a doubt,” said Tor Wager, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Right now only pain felt through the skin – heat put on an arm can be seen. The scientists intend to study other common types of pain, including headache, backache and pain from disease.
One part of the study involved 40 people who recently lost a serious love relationship, and were feeling rejected. In addition to the heat tests, the participants had scans while being shown a picture of their former partners, and then a picture of a good friend. The researchers found the brain signatures for emotional or social pain were different from the ones for physical pain. “That’s very provocative,” said Allan Ropper, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s and Harvard University, who wrote a commentary in the journal. He said the signatures seemed highly accurate and were able to distinguish physical pain from other kinds.
In another part of the study researchers gave participants two infusions of a morphine-like drug while they were being scanned and having the heat applied. The first time they knew they were getting the drug. The second time they were told they were getting a “dummy” infusion, but actually got the drug again. Brain signatures showed their pain was being relieved both times, in proportion to how much drug was in their systems. “This is beginning to open a new wedge into brain science. There may be completely novel ways of treating pain by focusing on these areas of the brain rather than the conventional medications which block pain impulses from getting into the spinal cord and brain,” Ropper said……….. Associated Press News 4/11/13