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 perform better.
Assistant professor in psychology Stuart Cathcart, four of his honours students and professor of physiotherapy Gordon Waddington are using ‘transcranial direct-current stimulation’ to test how the brain reacts to different stimuli applied to one’s body and to see if stimulating parts of the brain can improve endurance exercise.
UC researchers working with brain stimulation technology to learn more about the brain. L-R: Dr Stuart Cathcart, Andrew Flood and Mylie Sell. Photo: Michelle McAulay
“This technology administers tiny electric currents via electrodes positioned on people’s heads to increase or decrease brain activity in specific areas,” Dr Cathcart said. “We are conducting several studies to learn about these changes in brain activity.
“One study is examining the areas of the brain that process the emotional component of pain,” he said.
“Until now we had only been able to observe this through imaging techniques, but now we can experimentally manipulate these brain areas to test theories of brain mechanisms of pain more thoroughly.”
The technology will potentially be able to help doctors improve the treatment of chronic pain or help in the rehabilitation process of patients who have suffered a stroke, for example.
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, you slow down because your legs get tired and because your brain reduces output to them,” 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 reduce the feeling of fatigue during exercise.”
According to Dr Cathcart, the tests are non-invasive, safe and painless. The team is looking for volunteers. If you are interested in participating please contact Dr Cathcart on [email protected]