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Using fMRI To Treat Substance Abuse and Chronic Pain

Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, will be using stimulus funds to see if real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging could be used to help relieve the agony that people experience as they try to free themselves of substance abuse.

Photo of Sean Mackey

Mackey has been studying the roots of pain in the brain for years, applying in 2008 for a grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue his imaging studies in the field. But that grant was held up by a shortage of cash at the federal agency.

Now, thanks to the national economic stimulus program, Mackey will receive $641,559 over the next two years to expand upon his earlier work, using fMRI to register how blood flow to the brain may change under different circumstances.

In a previous study, Mackey and his colleagues showed that patients, while viewing fMRIs of their brains, could learn to control neuronal processes in the anterior cingulate cortex, resulting in a reduction in pain they had been experiencing. He now hopes to find out whether a similar process can be used to address pain specifically associated with substance abuse.

The work requires developing a set of standards on how to use fMRI as a clinical tool. If successful in this instance, the imaging technology could be extended to treat such other problems as anxiety, depression, brain injury and cognitive development.

Mackey, associate professor of anesthesia and pain management, is working with colleagues from radiology, psychiatry and psychology on this study. The stimulus money will help to cover the faculty salary support as well as enable him to hire two full-time researchers for the project.

This article originally appeared on the Stanford University School of Medicine website. Reposted with permission.

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  • Basic Behavioral and Social Science
  • Behavioral and Social Science
  • Clinical Research
  • Drug Abuse (NIDA only)
  • Mental Health
  • Neurosciences
  • Pain Conditions - Chronic
  • Substance Abuse
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