NIH Launches Project to Map Brain & Help Chronic Pain

Karen Lee Richards Health Guide
  • "The National Institutes of Health Blueprint for Neuroscience Research is launching a $30 million project that will use cutting-edge brain imaging technologies to map the circuitry of the healthy adult human brain," according to the NIH report.  By collecting brain imaging data from hundreds of subjects, the Human Connectome Project will provide insight into how brain connections actually work, which will help unlock many of the mysteries of the brain and open up new treatment possibilities.

    Why should this matter to chronic pain patients?  Because the first three challenges they are addressing are:

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    •  The connectivity of the adult, human brain
    •  Targeted drug development for neurological diseases
    •  The neural basis of chronic pain disorders

    We've long known it's the brain that tells us we're in pain.  It's designed to be a protective mechanism.  If we put our hand on a hot stove, our brain tells us it's painful so we'll remove our hand and prevent significant damage.  When we cut ourselves, our brain says, “That hurts,” which tells us to stop the bleeding before we bleed to death.  But with chronic pain disorders, often something goes wrong in the brain's pain center.  In a sense, it gets stuck in the “on” position, making us more sensitive to pain – telling us things are painful when, in reality, they shouldn't be. 

    Up till now, scientists have known that different parts of the brain serve different functions such as movement, emotion, learning, memory and pain sensation; but little is known about how the different parts of the brain connect and interact.  Hopefully this brain-mapping project will enable scientists to understand what causes the brain's pain center to overreact and how it can be prevented and treated. 

    I've become increasingly frustrated with the government's attempts to intrude into the doctor-patient relationship and control the kind of medical care we receive.  But this project is an example of what I think the government should be doing in relation to health care – funding large-scale research projects that wouldn't be possible through private companies or foundations.  This is a case where the government can truly help us and give us hope that one day we will be able to control chronic pain.

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    Source:  National Institutes of Health, (2009, July 15). NIH Launches the Human Connectome Project to Unravel the Brain’s Connections . From NIH News Web site: http://www.nih.gov/news/health/jul2009/ninds-15.htm

Published On: July 22, 2009