For the first time, researchers at the UNC School of Medicine showed they could target one brain region with a weak alternating current of electricity, enhance the naturally occurring brain rhythms of that region, and significantly decrease symptoms associated with chronic lower back pain.
The results, published in the Journal of Pain and presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego this week, suggest that doctors could one day target parts of the brain with new noninvasive treatment strategies, such as transcranial alternating current stimulation, or tACS, which researchers used in this study to boost the naturally occurring brain waves they theorized were important for the treatment of chronic pain.
“We’ve published numerous brain stimulation papers over several years, and we always learn something important,” said senior author Flavio Frohlich, PhD, director of the Carolina Center for Neurostimulation and associate professor of psychiatry. “But this is the first time we’ve studied chronic pain, and this is the only time all three elements of a study lined up perfectly. We successfully targeted a specific brain region, we enhanced or restored that region’s activity, and we correlated that enhancement with a significant decrease in symptoms.”
Co-first author Julianna Prim, a graduate student mentored by Karen McCulloch, PT, PhD, in the Department of Allied Health Sciences at the UNC School of Medicine, who works closely with Frohlich’s lab, said, “If brain stimulation can help people with chronic pain, it would be a cheap, non-invasive therapy that could reduce the burden of opioids, which we all know can have severe side effects.” Read the full article at UNC Health Care.