Tag Archives: chronic pain

Early Brain Predictors Found Chronic Pain Might Be Optional

The reason why some people develop chronic pain while others do not has stumped experts for quite some time. Thanks to the first longitudinal brain imagining study tracking this phenomena in patients with new back injuries, we now know that chronic pain is, quite literally, all in our heads.

Chronic Neuropathic Pain Relieved Using Spinal Cord Cell Therapy

Neurons - Nerve Cells and Neuropathic Pain Relief

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco may have found a potential future treatment that uses cell therapy to not only help with relief of chronic and difficult-to-treat pain, but also to cure the conditions that cause the pain.

Using mice, the UCSF researches focused on neuropathic pain, the type of chronic pain that arises from nerve injury. The study, which can be found in the May 24, 2012 issue of Neuron, explains how researchers transplanted immature embryonic nerve cells that were taken from the brain during development, placing them in the spinal cord region.

A small percentage of the cells survived being transplanted and developed into functioning neurons. The surviving cells integrated into the circuitry of the spinal cord and formed signaling pathways with neighboring neurons. In other words, they bridged the gap left after injury, eliminating pain and hypersensitivity.

Currently, sufferers of chronic pain and hypersensitivity, such as patients that have had shingles, rely on narcotic pain relievers. Gabapentin, an anticonvulsant originally used to treat epilepsy, is the most commonly prescribed drug for sufferers of chronic pain. Unfortunately, only 30 percent of patients that try the medication find relief, and those that do find relief claim it only provides reduces the pain by about 30 percent. Side effects are common with many of the commercially available pain killers as well.

“Now we are working toward the possibility of potential treatments that might eliminate the source of neuropathic pain, and that may be much more effective than drugs that aim only to treat symptomatically the pain that results from chronic, painful conditions,” said the senior author of the study, Allan Basbaum, PhD, chair of the Department of Anatomy at UCSF.

Research shows that neuropathic pain is caused by neurons that are lost or circuitry that is changed in ways that compromise the signals that help relieve pain. The changes cause hyper-excitability, which enhance the pain messages that are sent to the brain, making the brain perceive more pain that is actually present.

Neuropathic Pain Relief Illustration

The damaged inhibitory neurons release a molecule that normally transmits inhibitory signals, known as the GABA neurotransmitter. The loss of GABA inhibition is blamed in epilepsy and may play a part in Parkinson’s disease as well. Previously, researches had experimented with transplanting immature neurons that make GABA, but in earlier experiments they were placed in the brain. Basbaum decided to try placing these cells into the spinal cord as a potential treatment for the loss of GABA-driven inhibition in neuropathic pain. Success was not a guarantee, as these cells usually do not survive outside of the brain, their natural home, in complex organisms.

According to Kriegstein, who directs the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF, “This research is at a very early stage, and we’re a long way from thinking about it in human trials, but we do have a method of making cells that are like these inhibitory neurons, starting with human embryonic stem cells.”

“One of the amazing properties of these cells from the medial ganglionic eminence is their unprecedented migratory capacity, which enables them to navigate through multiple terrains within the central nervous system, and to then become functionally integrated with other cells,” remarked Alvarez-Buylla, a leading scientist working to define the potentials of various cells in the developing brain and various stages. “Those properties have proved useful in other places where we have transplanted them, and now in the spinal cord.”

Joao Braz and Reza Sharif Naieni Research Neuropathic Pain

The authors of the study, Joao Braz, PhD and Reza Sharif-Naieni, PhD, have a patent pending on the treatment from the study.


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PA Man Becomes Second US Recipient of Pain Removing Implant

Dr. Falowski Explains His Pain Removing Spinal Cord Stimulator to Recipient Jeff Hardick

Jeff Hardick received a Christmas miracle this past holiday season. After 3 years of “excruciating burning pain” in his back, he became the second person in the United States to receive a spinal cord stimulator implant that blocks pain signals before they reach the brain. He is now pain free.

In 2003, Hardick injured his back while on his job, where he worked with sheet metal on a hydraulic press. He received medication and was back returned to work within a few weeks. Then a second injury required back surgery, which was followed by yet a third injury, which ultimately caused him so much continual pain he was forced to use a wheelchair.

Jeff Hardick, 2nd Recipient of Pain Removing Spinal Cord Stimulator

Even after consulting several specialists, he was unable to find a cure for his pain. His wife worried that he would have a pain attack, which often left him unconscious, while she away at work.

“I was scared to death to open the door,” Terri Hardick said. “Where was I going to find him?”

“I had given up all hope,” Hardick stated, regarding his outlook at that time.

Dr. Falowski Explains His Pain Removing Spinal Cord Stimulator to Recipient Jeff Hardick

But a lucky break for Hardick came when he ran into an old colleague at the grocery and learned about spinal implants. Luck was on his side again, as St. Luke’s Hospital in Lehigh Valley, PA had recently brought on board Dr. Steven Falowski, a neurosurgeon who works with Parkinson’s patients and specializes in chronic pain.

Once the RestoreSensor Neurostimulator implant received FDA approval, its manufacturer, Medtronic, approached Dr. Falowiski to see if there was a patient that would benefit from the it. Hardick was a match, and he agreed to the surgery.

Medtronic RestoreSensor Neurostimulator

The RestoreSensor Neurostimulator was implanted into the gluteus muscle of the right buttock. While it does not fix the original injury, the pocket watch-sized device blocks pain signals before they reach the brain, which means that Hardick is now pain free.

Pain Removing Spinal Cord Stimulator

Just weeks before the procedure, Hardick could only sit in his wheelchair, unable to move while he dealt with stabs of pain that reached “at least a 10” (out of 10) on the pain scale; now he is looking forward to strolling on the beach with his wife Terri later this year.


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