Apkarian, A. Vania
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Title: The Brain in Chronic Pain

Synopsis: Overwhelming evidence suggests that chronic pain must primarily be viewed as a neurological disease state, with different chronic pain conditions exhibiting unique patterns of functional and structural brain reorganization. In parallel, both human and animal brain imaging studies have consistently emphasized the role of brain plasticity in chronic pain.

Thus the critical questions in the field of pain research are: what characteristics differentiate those who develop chronic pain and those who manage to recover from their injuries? And can brain function and structure predict future treatment and even placebo response?

I will argue that brain limbic circuitry plays a critical role in the predisposition for, transition to, and maintenance of chronic pain. The emotional basis of chronic pain opens up a horizon of opportunities for developing new treatment strategies for suffering related to pain.

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BIO: Dr. A. Vania Apkarian has been a professor in the Department of Physiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, since 2002. Dr. Apkarian's educational background combines neuroscience, electrical engineering, and biomedical engineering, and his work focuses on pain perception in health and disease as a means of studying consciousness.

He has pioneered the use of brain imaging technology to peer into the brains of individuals who suffer from chronic pain conditions, such as low back pain and osteoarthritis. His scientific contributions have included:

  • Extensive electrophysiological characterizations of the role of the thalamus in pain processing
  • The first reports of altered brain grey matter, white matter, and resting state network connectivity in chronic pain populations
  • The first characterization of brain activity related to spontaneous fluctuations of chronic pain
  • The first prospective prediction of pain chronicity using brain properties
  • The first description of brain activity that predicts the future propensity for a pain patient to be a placebo responder.

Dr. Apkarian's current focus is the use of brain imaging in animals and humans to determine critical mechanisms that drive the propensity for developing chronic pain, its long-term maintenance, and therapeutic interventions aimed at treating and ultimately preventing development of chronic pain.