University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston professor Volker Neugebauer, who has been awarded a four-year, $1.36 million grant by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to conduct an innovative study of the relationship between pain and parts of the brain associated with cognitive thought and emotional response, recently visited with Jim Guidry. Listen
“We are interested in pain because pain is obviously an important problem,” Neugebauer said. “Hundreds of millions of people are affected by pain. It’s the number one reason for a patient to seek a doctor.”
He said that the national cost of pain totals several hundred billions of dollars, "which is actually more than for those common diseases such as heart disease and diabetes and cancer".
Neugebauer said that an important part of his study is to understand how the brain functions.
“The brain is still a black box in many ways,” he said, going into detail about how researchers gain some idea of the working of the brain from neuro-imaging studies.
He acknowledged that pain is important as a warning indicator of a problem in people, but stressed that chronic pain is not good.
“We make that distinction between physiological, normal pain and abnormal pathophysiological pain that is chronic,” he said. “And those two scenarios affect the brain differently.”
He said pain is closely related to anxiety and depression.
“Pain can led to anxiety and depression, but also patients suffering from anxiety and depression are more likely to experience chronic forms of pain and the pain intensity is typically higher.”
Neugebauer said that his study is focused on the amygdala, a key emotional center in the brain that is related to persistent pain and uncomfortable states like fear and anxiety.
He said he uses animals in his research so that brain tissues can be studied.
“We can actually use the tissue in the brains and get really down to approaches and mechanisms that would not be possible, really, in the human brain,” he explained.
Neugebauer said that his current research project may not immediately lead to a new pain therapy, but he hopes that it could lead to a new strategy to deal with the more complex aspects of pain.
“That is something that we would like to have done eventually, collaboration with those facilities or research groups that are working with patients,” he said, “Facilitating that process from the basic science lab into the clinics - I think that would be a dream.”
For the official UTMB news release on professor Neugebauer's research Click Here