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Centre for Pain IMPACT



The Centre for Pain IMPACT, directed by A/Prof James McAuley, Dr Siobhan Schabrun, A/Prof Sylvia Gustin, and A/Prof David Seminowicz conducts research that encompasses basic science through to clinical and translational research.

Our research investigates the causes of chronic pain; develops and tests the efficacy and effectiveness of new treatment approaches; and implements new treatment approaches into clinical practice.

The research covers a range of conditions: low back pain, osteoarthritis, temporomandibular disorder, focal hand dystonia, headache, complex regional pain syndrome, migraine, burning mouth syndrome, sickle cell disease, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal cord injury neuropathic pain, trigeminal neuropathic pain and trigeminal neuralgia.

Our team uses different research methods, including: animal (rodent) models, human models, neuroimaging, experimental methods (non-invasive brain stimulation, quantitative sensory testing), cohort studies, randomised controlled trials, implementation trials, and qualitative research.

The Centre also provides ongoing pain-related educational activities, including media, public lectures, clinical workshops, and seminars.

The overarching aims of IMPACT are to:

  • profile NeuRA’s world class pain research
  • facilitate collaboration within and beyond NeuRA
  • raise awareness of NeuRA’s pain activities by providing:
    • a platform for research participant recruitment
    • a forum for public and clinician education.
  • leverage expertise within NeuRA to seek external funding support (e.g. NHMRC CRE, industry, philanthropy).
See what’s going on at NeuRA


The RESTORE Trial: Immersive Virtual Reality Treatment for Restoring Touch Perception in People with Discomplete Paraplegia

Chief Investigators: Associate Professor Sylvia Gustin, Prof James Middleton, A/Prof Zina Trost, Prof Ashley Craig, Prof Jim Elliott, Dr Negin Hesam-Shariati, Corey Shum and James Stanley While recognition of surviving pathways in complete injuries has tremendous implications for SCI rehabilitation, currently no effective treatments exist to promote or restore touch perception among those with discomplete SCI. The proposed study will address this need by developing and testing a novel intervention that can provide touch restoration via the primary source of sensory perception: the brain.Complete spinal cord injury (SCI) is associated with a complete loss of function such as mobility or sensation. In a recent discovery we revealed that 50% of people with complete SCI still have surviving somatosensory nerve fibres at the level of the spine. For those with complete SCI this is hopeful news as it means -- contrary to previous belief that communication to the brain had been severed by injury -- that the brain is still receiving messages. This new SCI type is labelled “discomplete SCI” -- a SCI person who cannot feel touch, but touch information is still forwarded from the foot to the brain. The project will use virtual reality (VR) in a way it has never been used before. We will develop the first immersive VR interface that simultaneously enhances surviving spinal somatosensory nerve fibres and touch signals in the brain in an effort to restore touch perception in people with discomplete SCI. In other words, immersive VR is being used to re-train the brain to identify the distorted signals from toe to head as sensation (touch). For example, participants will receive touch simulation in the real world (e.g., their toe) while at the same time receiving corresponding multisensory touch stimuli in the virtual world (e.g., experiencing walking up to kick a ball). This project is the first effort worldwide to restore touch sensation in 50% of individuals with complete injuries. The outcomes to be achieved from the current study will represent a cultural and scientific paradigmatic shift in terms of what can be expected from life with a spinal cord injury. In addition, the project allows potential identification of brain mechanisms that may ultimately represent direct targets for acute discomplete SCI rehabilitation, including efforts to preserve rather than restore touch perception following SCI. RESTORE consolidates the expertise of scientists, clinicians, VR developers and stakeholders from NeuRA and UNSW School of Psychology (A/Prof Sylvia Gustin, Dr Negin Hesam-Shariati), John Walsh Centre for Rehabilitation Research, Kolling Institute and University of Sydney (Prof James Middleton, Prof Ashley Craig and Prof Jim Elliott), Virginia Commonwealth University (A/Prof Zina Trost), Immersive Experience Laboratories LLC (Director Corey Shum) and James Stanley. If you are interested in being contacted about the RESTORE trial, please email A/Prof Sylvia Gustin (s.gustin@unsw.edu.au) and include your name, phone number, address, type of SCI (e.g., complete or incomplete), level of injury (e.g., T12) and duration of SCI (e.g., 5 years).