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Sound and electrical body stimulation show chronic pain potential

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Combining electrical stimulation with sound activates the brain’s somatosensory cortex and could be used to treat chronic pain and other sensory disorders, according to a new US study.

Researchers at University of Minnesota Twin Cities tested the non-invasive technique on guinea pigs and are planning to conduct human clinical trials in the near future.

In the experiments, the researchers played broadband sound while electrically stimulating different parts of the rodents’ bodies.

They found that the combination activated neurons in the brain’s “tactile” cortex, which is responsible for touch and pain sensations.

Although the researchers used needle stimulation, similar results could be achieved through the use of electrical stimulation devices that are widely available at pharmacies and shops.

The team hopes that the findings will lead to a new drug-free treatment for chronic pain.

Lead author Cory Gloeckner, a Ph.D. alumnus of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Department of Biomedical Engineering and assistant professor at John Carroll University, said:

“Chronic pain is a huge issue for a lot of people, and for most, it’s not sufficiently treatable.

“Right now, one of the ways that we try to treat pain is opioids, and we all know that doesn’t work out well for many people.

“This, on the other hand, is a non-invasive, simple application.

“ It’s not some expensive medical device that you have to buy in order to treat your pain. It’s something that we think would be available to pretty much anyone because of its low cost and simplicity.”

The researchers will continue to investigate this ‘multimodal’ approach to treating different neurological conditions.

Hubert Lim, senior author on the paper and a professor in the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Department of Biomedical Engineering and Department of Otolaryngology, said:

“A lot of people have been using acupuncture or electrical stimulation—non-invasive or invasive—to try to alter brain activity for pain.

“Our research shows that when you combine this with sound, the brain lights up even more.”

The researcher added:

“It’s odd to think about using sound to treat pain, but if you think about what institutes like the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing or the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health are doing, they’re looking at music therapy and combining other modalities with the traditional methods to be able to enhance healing of these types of conditions.

“This research gives us a new, structured framework for doing that moving forward.”

Image: SONIC Lab, University of Minnesota

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