It's shocking: Ultra-focused electric current helps brain curb pain

October 29, 2013 by Laura Bailey

(Medical Xpress)—Imagine significantly reducing a persistent migraine or fibromyalgia by a visit to a doctor who delivers low doses of electricity to the brain.

Alex DaSilva, assistant professor of prosthodontics at the University of Michigan, and colleagues are optimizing the next generation for such a technique, called high-definition , or HD-tDCS.

The researchers have published several studies with the conventional tDCS, which also treats pain by "shocking" the with low doses of electrical current delivered noninvasively through electrodes placed on the scalp. The current modulates targeted areas of the brain, and one of the mechanisms is by activating the release of opioid-like painkillers.

HD-tDCS delivers an even more precisely focused current to the targeted areas of the brain. Preliminary reports have shown better pain relief in patients and a longer and more pronounced effect on the brain, said DaSilva, who heads the Headache and Orofacial Pain Effort Laboratory at the U-M School of Dentistry.

The increased precision of HD-tDCS means researchers can custom-place the electrodes to the skull. In this way, they can modulate specific areas in the brain to treat a wider range of conditions, such as and stroke. Other uses include neurophysiological studies and cognitive and behavioral assessments.

The video will load shortly
Using HD-tDCS researchers treat pain by "shocking" the brain with low doses of electrical current delivered non-invasively through electrodes on the scalp. This current modulates targeted areas of the brain, activating the release of opioid-like painkillers and helping relieve pain.

One 20-minute session of HD-tDCS significantly reduced overall pain perception in patients as described in one of the studies.

Researchers control the current by a portable device, which they hope physicians can eventually use in the clinic as a noninvasive treatment for chronic pain patients.

"We are working hard to make the technology available for clinical use at U-M," DaSilva said. "Our lab is getting a good number of emails from chronic patients looking for treatment."

The conventional technology is already available for many companies, and the HD-tDCS is being patented by the company of one of the developers.

Co-authors include Mauricio Villamar, Abhishek Datta, Marom Bikson, Magdalena Sara Volz and Felipe Fregni of Harvard University, City College of New York-CUNY and Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador.

To allow broad access and further investigation of the HD-tDCS technology by other researchers, DaSilva and colleagues released a scientific video demonstrating the step-by-step guideline of the research protocol: www.jove.com/embed/directions/50309?key=uahsva6y

Explore further: Migraine patients find pain relief in electrical brain stimulation

Related Stories

Migraine patients find pain relief in electrical brain stimulation

April 20, 2012
Chronic migraine sufferers saw significant pain relief after four weeks of electrical brain stimulation in the part of the brain responsible for voluntary movement, the motor cortex, according to a new study.

Electric stimulation of brain releases powerful, opiate-like painkiller

January 2, 2013
Researchers used electricity on certain regions in the brain of a patient with chronic, severe facial pain to release an opiate-like substance that's considered one of the body's most powerful painkillers.

Technology eases migraine pain in the deep brain

May 1, 2012
Migraine pain sits at the upper end of the typical pain scale – an angry-red section often labeled "severe." At this intensity, pain is debilitating. Yet many sufferers do not get relief from – or cannot tolerate ...

Hologram-like 3-D brain helps researchers decode migraine pain (w/ Video)

April 19, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Wielding a joystick and wearing special glasses, pain researcher Alexandre DaSilva rotates and slices apart a large, colorful, 3-D brain floating in space before him.

New treatment trial for bipolar disorder

April 11, 2012
Applying mild electrical currents to the brain has been shown to be an effective treatment for depression. But could the treatment also benefit people with bipolar disorder?

New mobile app helps migraine sufferers track and analyze pain

November 5, 2012
A new iPhone app developed at the University of Michigan lets migraine or facial pain patients easily track and record their pain, which in turn helps the treating clinician develop a pain management plan.

Recommended for you

'Residual echo' of ancient humans in scans may hold clues to mental disorders

July 26, 2017
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have produced the first direct evidence that parts of our brains implicated in mental disorders may be shaped by a "residual echo" from our ancient past. The more ...

Laser used to reawaken lost memories in mice with Alzheimer's disease

July 26, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at Columbia University has found that applying a laser to the part of a mouse brain used for memory storage caused the mice to recall memories lost due to a mouse version of Alzheimer's ...

Cellular roots of anxiety identified

July 26, 2017
From students stressing over exams to workers facing possible layoffs, worrying about the future is a normal and universal experience. But when people's anticipation of bad things to come starts interfering with daily life, ...

Cognitive cross-training enhances learning, study finds

July 25, 2017
Just as athletes cross-train to improve physical skills, those wanting to enhance cognitive skills can benefit from multiple ways of exercising the brain, according to a comprehensive new study from University of Illinois ...

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Zebrafish study reveals clues to healing spinal cord injuries

July 25, 2017
Fresh insights into how zebrafish repair their nerve connections could hold clues to new therapies for people with spinal cord injuries.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RichardBlumenthal
not rated yet Oct 29, 2013
Roman doctors would place an electricity emitting torpedo ray on the head of a headache patient or other painful area.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.