PainRelief Through Optogenetics: Scientists Make Flexible Gel to Deliver Light to Peripheral Nerves Interview with:
Xinyue Liu, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science
Michigan State University
Siyuan Rao, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Biomedical Engineering Department
Binghamton University, SUNY

Dr. Liu What is the background for this study?

Response: The background lies in the field of optogenetics and its application to the study and modulation of pain perception. Optogenetics is a powerful tool that allows precise control of neural cell populations using light. It has been widely used in neuroscience to investigate how different cells in the brain and nervous system function and how their activity can be modulated. Specifically, in the context of pain research, optogenetics offers the potential to explore the neural mechanisms underlying pain perception and to develop new therapeutic interventions for pain management.

However, one of the challenges in applying optogenetics to the study of pain and nociceptive circuits is the delivery of light to peripheral nerves that experience mechanical strain during locomotion. Traditional light-delivery devices made from rigid materials, such as glass fibers, are not well-suited for this purpose. They can impede the natural behaviors of animals and may cause tissue damage when used in dynamic conditions.

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Progress Made Toward Electronic Skin That Senses Pain, Temperature and Touch Interview with:
Md. Ataur Rahman
Research Fellow
Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group
School of Engineering
RMIT University
Melbourne, Victoria Australia  What is the background for this study?

Response: The most prevalent and critical skin receptors relate to pressure, temperature, and pain – the Pacinian corpuscle, thermoreceptor, and nociceptor, respectively. All these receptors detect stimuli, measure levels of stimuli, and transmit signals to the brain triggering reactions. The characteristic features of such human sensory system are quite complex to be mimicked by existing electronics. Development of such electronics will be a big step leading towards smart prosthetics and human-like robotics.  What are the main findings? What are some of the potential uses for this ‘skin’?

Response: While some existing technologies have used electrical signals to mimic the skin receptors, these new devices can react to real mechanical pressure, temperature, and pain, and deliver the right electronic response.

This electronic skin enable replacement of affected human skin regions, augment skin sensitivity for agile applications in defense and sports, and drive advancements in intelligent robotics.

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PET Probe Pinpoints Sites of Pain Generation to Improve Pain Management Interview with:
Sandip Biswal MD
Associate Professor of Radiology
Co-Section Chief, Musculoskeletal Imaging
Director, Musculoskeletal Imaging Fellowship
Member, Molecular Imaging Program at Stanford (MIPS) and Bio-X
Department of Radiology
Stanford University School of Medicine  What is the background for this study?
Response: Our ability to manage patients with chronic pain remains woefully inadequate. Chronic pain patients are faced with limited resources and inadequate care, and as a result, they make up the #1 disease group in the world—numbering more than heart disease, diabetes and cancer combined. Those suffering from low back pain, headache, fibromyalgia, arthritis and many other pain syndromes make up this ever-growing population. A big part of our inability to care for chronic pain patients is due to the fact that our current imaging methods for correctly identifying pain generators remain substantially inaccurate. Our ability to accurately identify the cause of a person’s pain, discomfort, inflammation or other related musculoskeletal symptom(s) using current clinical imaging approaches, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), digital radiography (x-ray) and ultrasound, is quite limited, lacks sensitivity/specificity and can even misguide treatment. As a musculoskeletal radiologist, I witness these shortcomings on a daily basis. I, for example, see firsthand how the lack of reliable diagnostic tools leads to significant misdiagnosis, mismanagement, incorrect use of opioids, unhelpful surgeries and, ultimately, therapeutic failures. We need a much better way to diagnose pain generators. 

Accordingly, our group has been developing new clinical imaging methods that pinpoint the site of pain generation using imaging probes—more specifically, positron-emission tomography (PET) tracers that specifically target “pain receptors” or “pain molecules.” These pain receptors or pain molecules are present in abundance at the site of pain generation. After injecting one of these imaging probes into a patient through the vein, we give the probe a few minutes to circulate around the body and stick to areas that have a high density of pain receptors. We can then take a picture of the patient with a special camera that will show “hot spots” on the image that signify the location of high number of pain receptors, thereby highlighting “painful” pro-inflammatory and/or pro-nociceptive tissues. With this approach, doctors and patients have information with which they can make more objective decisions about the diagnosis and treatment of one’s pain.

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Do Psychological Approaches Offer Pain Relief to Hospitalized Patients? Interview with:
Dr.-Ing. Marcus Komann
Jena University Hospital
Jena, Germany

Ing. Marcus Komann
 Jena University Hospital
 Jena, Germany  What is the background for this study?

Response: A lot of non-pharmacological methods (like relaxation, cold packs, prayer and so on) for post-operative pain relief are used in today’s hospitals. There is also some literature out there on this topic. However, the literature mostly concerns single methods and very specific patient groups. Further, for most methods, the literature is not clear on the pain soothing effects.

We looked at a real-life registry to study the effects of a large number of such methods on a big sample of patients.

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