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Chronic Pain Imaging

February 18, 2015

Researchers are imaging the brain’s microglial cells to get a better handle on the causes of chronic pain.



Craig Sunter Back pain from 30 years of bricklaying CC BY-ND 2.0

The face of chronic pain. (Craig Sunter/flickr)

Picturing pain. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Chronic pain afflicts billions of people worldwide; conquering it would be a historic milestone in medicine. But it’s hard to conquer what you can’t see, and pain is notoriously slippery to pin down. Neuroimaging researcher Clas Linnman at Boston Children’s Hospital is using PET scans and functional MRI to try to see chronic pain, both in the afflicted part of the body and in the brain itself.

CLAS LINNMAN (Boston Children’s Hospital):

We can see that there is still some level of inflammation going on even several months or years after your injury, and we can see that this constant ongoing pain will change the way your brain reacts and the chemistry of your brain.


He’s focusing on the brain’s microglial cells, which can keep both inflammation and pain going long after they’re needed. Getting a better picture of their activity may lead to new pain treatments. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.