Targeting chronic pain

A team of Vanderbilt engineers, clinicians and imaging scientists is developing a focused ultrasound neuromodulation device as a non-invasive and non-addictive method for treating chronic pain.

The device will look like an MRI head coil and combine functional MRI with ultrasound neuromodulation. The combination will allow researchers to simultaneously alter neuronal activity in brain regions associated with pain and monitor the response in real time using functional MRI.

The team from the Vanderbilt University Institute for Imaging Science received a $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health as part an initiative to improve chronic pain treatments, curb opioid abuse use and overdose, and achieve recovery from opioid addiction.

While other devices to treat pain exist, their efficacy is limited by inaccurate targeting of pain regions and circuits in the brain, the researchers said. They hypothesize that ultrasound neuromodulation technology will allow for accurate and reliable stimulation of specific pain targets through enhanced, image-guided control.

“Ultrasound neuromodulation is a pretty new and exciting area because it allows you to alter activity non-invasively, with fine spatial precision, in deep or superficial brain targets,” said Will Grissom, associate professor of biomedical engineering.

Device testing will occur in collaboration with Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering.