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Measuring Pain

October 17, 2011

Researchers have developed a way to measure pain in the brain.



Measuring pain objectively…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Pain often goes undertreated, in part because there’s no objective way to measure its severity. Now, a team of researchers has taken the first steps toward developing an unbiased measure of pain. Northwestern University researcher Neil Chatterjee and his colleagues applied a painful heat stimulus to the forearms of volunteers while scanning their brains. They used the scans to create a computer model of what pain looks like in the brain.

NEIL CHATTERJEE (Northwestern University):

So then the computer takes these scans of people it’s never seen, it compares them to this model it’s created, and then it tells us, okay, I think this person is feeling pain right now, or no I don’t think this person is feeling pain right now. And it turns out that about 4 out of 5 times, the computer was right.


He says much work is needed before the technique can be used to assess more subtle gradations of pain, but he says it could one day be used to improve pain management. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.