Better pain relief via microchip: new research

Flinders researchers are working on new forms of chronic pain relief involving a form of microchip that is able to measure pain and determine its source.

In collaboration with researchers at Monash University, they want to develop a neuron-chip interface system that allows them to test drug effects on pain sensors in the brain.

It would also enable them to test biological fluids from patients and “measure” pain so that doctors can use the optimal treatment and monitor if it works.

Objectively quantifying pain so far alludes medical researchers, and the latest research is in its early stages.

“We are in the initial stages of investigating suitable micro-fluidic platforms that can grow and maintain sensory neurons responsible for transmitting heat or mechanical pain,” says Dr Dusan Matusica, research associate in the Pain and Pulmonary Neurobiology Laboratory at Finders University.

In the laboratory these sensory neurons can be transformed into mechanical sensing or heat sensing cells.

These cells can later be tested as part of a special microchip to see how they behave in the presence of serum or cerebrospinal fluid from chronic pain patients.

The researchers aim to use this novel platform to improve clinical diagnosis to help treat patients with chronic pain.

Future studies will aim to also use these cells to screen new drugs for potential new pain treatments.

The pioneering work is being driven by Dr Matusica, Lecturer in Human Anatomy, and Professor Rainer Haberberger, Professor of Anatomy and Histology, and at the Flinders College of Medicine and Public Health.

The Centre for Neuroscience (CNS) at Flinders is celebrating its 40th anniversary at a series of special lectures on Thursday 7 September as part of the Flinders Health Research Week (4-8 September). The annual Chalmers Oration at 12 noon will feature Professor Anne Kelso AO, Chief Executive of the National Health and Medical Research Council, who will speak on ‘Crisis or Opportunity? A new era for medical research funding in Australia’.

From 2pm, Emeritus Professor Chalmers will join a discussion panel for the CNS at Health Sciences Lecture Theatre Complex 1.01, followed by a showcase of current research by Associate Professor Karin Nordstrom, Dr Mary-Louise Rogers and Professor Nick Spencer and a special musical performance by Emeritus Professor Ian Gibbins and Professor Marcello Costa.

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