data-ucalA new brain scan database has been launched to allow researchers to pinpoint similarities and difference between chronic pain conditions, in an effort to optimize research and treatment development.

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences reports in a recent news release that the university’s Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress at UCLA will house the new Pain and Interoception Imaging Network (PAIN). The release reports that a total of 14 institutions in North America and Europe are participating in the standardized database.

The UCLA team will reportedly develop this larger chronic-pain network with the support of a $300,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The primary aim for the PAIN network centers on adding information from more than a thousand patients, including both adults and children. Researchers will not only have access to brain scans, but also to clinical and biological information or “metadata” about patients.

Researchers are now recognizing chronic pain as a brain disease, according to Emeran Mayer, professor of medicine in the division of digestive diseases, physiology and psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, executive director of the university’s Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress.

“If we want to treat it more effectively, we need to better understand and treat the mechanisms in the brain that are driving it,” Mayer adds.

Once the metadata has been obtained, the release notes, researchers can then develop larger, overlapping data sets in order to highlight similarities and differences among chronic pain conditions and correlate brain scans with clinical metadata. This will allow researchers to find distinct patterns from the scans of individuals with each pain conditions, says Bruce Naliboff, a professor in the departments of medicine and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Geffen School of Medicine and co-director of the Gail and Gerald Oppenheimer Family Center for Neurobiology of Stress.

Naliboff points out that this information could then be combined with additional information provided by the network and help assess how chronic pain manifests differently between men and women, across the life span, or between conditions.

In the future PAIN will also include information about the tens of trillions of microbes that make up bacteria living in the intestines, as researchers are currently exploring the link between the brain and gut, says Kirsten Tillisch, UCLA associate professor of digestive diseases who directs the neuroimaging core at the Oppenheimer Center. Tillisch explains that the type of bacteria living in the intestine may play role in some forms of chronic visceral pain.

The university goes on to state that standardized brain scans will include structural data regarding grey and white matter, and regarding intrinsic oscillations of the brain “resting state scans.”

Mayer emphasizes that the more information researchers can access about each individual chronic-pain condition, “the better we’ll be at predicting how subsets of patients will react to therapies.”

Source: The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Health Sciences