NeuRA Magazine #21

Feature Story

UNLOCKING THE REASONS FOR CHRONIC PAIN

Chronic pain is a significant problem worldwide and locally, impacting one in three Australians. It results in enormous suffering and costs to the individual, as well as their loved ones and society in general. Despite the availability of medications and other pain therapies, there is still no ideal treatment which benefits the majority of sufferers and most of the available therapies have significant side effects or risks of serious adverse events. Thus, there is an urgent need to identify, develop, and evaluate new chronic pain therapies.

Dr Sylvia Gustin’s research program addresses this need by developing and evaluating treatments which can provide pain relief via the primary source of pain: the human brain. Her research has identified biochemical, structural and functional alterations within the thalamus that are now known to play a key role in the development and maintenance of chronic neuropathic pain.

The thalamus is a small structure within the brain located just above the brain stem and acts as a gateway to and from the cortex. Dr Gustin’s new approach targets these thalamic changes to ultimately treat chronic pain.

In a new study these thalamic changes will be modulated, which Dr Gustin hopes will lead to significant pain reduction. This teaches individuals to gain control over their brain activity in a way which reduces their pain. An important part of the program is a nested mechanisms study which applies causal mediation analysis to state-of-the-art brain imaging data so that the precise brain processes which underlie therapeutic change can be identified.

Part of the reason behind our inadequate ability to provide satisfactory pain relief in people with chronic pain is our limited understanding of the pathophysiology under
lying chronic pain. Consequently, it is important that we determine the mechanisms underlying the development and maintenance of chronic pain.

Research has identified anatomical changes within the medial prefrontal cortex in chronic pain sufferers. The medial prefrontal cortex is the brain’s major processing centre for emotions. In a new study, Dr Gustin will determine the nature of these anatomical changes using state-of-the-art brain imaging techniques.

The results from this study will provide vital information which will help to unlock the reasons for chronic pain. In addition, it will provide new information which is needed to develop pain drugs which specifically target discrete brain regions.

Current pain medications are not targeted and therefore have significant side effects or risks of adverse events.

 

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FEEL THE BUZZ IN THE AIR? US TOO.

The cold case of schizophrenia - broken wide open!

‘It is like they were miraculously healed!’’ Schizophrenia is diagnosed by clinical observation of behaviour and speech. This is why NeuRA researchers are working hard to understand the biological basis of the illness. Through hours of work and in collaboration with doctors and scientists here and around the world, NeuRA has made an amazing breakthrough. For the first time, researchers have discovered the presence of antibodies in the brains of people who lived with schizophrenia. Having found these antibodies, it has led NeuRA researchers to ask two questions. What are they doing there? What should we do about the antibodies– help or remove them? This is a key breakthrough. Imagine if we are treating schizophrenia all wrong! It is early days, but can you imagine the treatment implications if we’ve identified a new biological basis for the disease? It could completely change the way schizophrenia is managed, creating new treatments that will protect the brain. More than this, could we be on the verge of discovering a ‘curable’ form of schizophrenia? How you can help We are so grateful for your loyal support of schizophrenia research in Australia, and today I ask if you will consider a gift today. Or, to provide greater confidence, consider becoming a Discovery Partner by making a monthly commitment. We believe there is great potential to explore these findings. Will you help move today’s breakthrough into tomorrow’s cure? To read more about this breakthrough, click ‘read the full story’ below. You are also invited to read ‘Beth’s story’, whose sweet son Marcus lived with schizophrenia, by clicking here.
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