01:48pm Thursday 17 October 2019

UC brain research to overcome pain barrier, fatigue

A group of researchers is using cutting-edge technology of brain stimulation to learn more about how our brain works in dealing with pain, fatigue or emotional stress. Applications for the research range from managing chronic headaches to helping competitive cyclists avoid feeling tiredness in their legs.

Assistant professor in psychology Stuart Cathcart and his four honours students are using ‘transcranial direct-current stimulation’ to test how the brain reacts to different stimuli applied to one’s body. And the team is looking for volunteers.

“This technology administers tiny electric currents via electrodes positioned on people’s heads to increase or decrease brain activity in specific areas, mainly to test how our brain reacts to pain, excessive exercise or even stress ,” he explained.

“We are conducting different tests to pinpoint which areas of the brain process the pain and its intensity, as well as finding which areas of the brain are able to process how unpleasant the pain is,” Dr Cathcart said.

“Until now we were only able to observe this through imaging techniques, but now we can experiment to see how we can deal better with pain in different ways.”

The technology will potentially be able to help doctors improve the treatment of chronic pain, improve the memory of Alzheimer’s patients, or help in the rehabilitation process of patients who have suffered a stroke.

In addition, Dr Cathcart said one of their trials is also looking at how to boost the performance of elite athletes who need to push through fatigue.

“If you run a marathon, do you slow down because your legs get tired or because your brain is telling your legs that they are tired?” he said.

“We are looking at whether stimulating the motor cortex of the brain before exercising could improve the stamina of your legs to keep them going or if the use of electrodes could be used to reduce the feeling of fatigue during exercise.”

According to Dr Cathcart, the tests are non-invasive, safe and painless.

  • Dr Cathcart is available for interview. 

Contact the University of Canberra media team:
Ed O’Daly 0408 829 618/ 6201 2441

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