News and Commentary Archive

Explore recent scientific discoveries and news as well as CLBB events, commentary, and press.

Mission

The speed of technology in neuroscience as it impacts ethical and just decisions in the legal system needs to be understood by lawyers, judges, public policy makers, and the general public. The Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior is an academic and professional resource for the education, research, and understanding of neuroscience and the law. Read more

Pain in an Era of Armed Conflicts: Prevention and Treatment for Warfighters and Civilian Casualties

By  E. George, I. Elman, L. Becerra, Sheri Berg, and D. Borsook | Progress in Neurobiology | June 2016

Abstract:

Chronic pain is a common squealae of military- and terror-related injuries. While its pathophysiology has not yet been fully elucidated, it may be potentially related to premorbid neuropsychobiological status, as well as to the type of injury and to the neural alterations that it may evoke. Accordingly, optimized approaches for wounded individuals should integrate primary, secondary and tertiary prevention in the form of thorough evaluation of risk factors along with specific interventions to contravene and mitigate the ensuing chronicity. Thus, Premorbid Events phase may encompass assessments of psychological and neurobiological vulnerability factors in conjunction with fostering preparedness and resilience in both military and civilian populations at risk. Injuries per se phase calls for immediate treatment of acute pain in the field by pharmacological agents that spare and even enhance coping and adaptive capabilities. The key objective of the Post Injury Events is to prevent and/or reverse maladaptive peripheral- and central neural system’s processes that mediate transformation of acute to chronic pain and to incorporate timely interventions for concomitant mental health problems including post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction. We suggest that the proposed continuum of care may avert more disability and suffering than the currently employed less integrated strategies. While the requirements of the armed forces present a pressing need for this integrated continuum and a framework in which it can be most readily implemented, this approach may be also instrumental for the care of civilian casualties.

Read the full article here.

Common Brain Mechanisms of Chronic Pain and Addiction

By Igor Elman and David Borsook | Neuron | January 6, 2016

Abstract: 

While chronic pain is considered by some to be a CNS disease, little is understood about underlying neurobiological mechanisms. Addiction models have heuristic value in this regard, because both pain and addictive disorders are characterized by impaired hedonic capacity, compulsive drug seeking, and high stress. In drug addiction such symptomatology has been attributed to reward deficiency, impaired inhibitory control, incentive sensitization, aberrant learning, and anti-reward allostatic neuroadaptations. Here we propose that similar neuroadaptations exist in chronic pain patients.

Read the rest of the paper here.

Emotion and Pain – Beyond “All in Your Head”

By David Seminowicz, Principal Investigator, Seminowicz Pain Imaging Lab, Department of Neural and Pain Sciences, University of Maryland

A potential difficulty, but also an opportunity, relating to using neuroimaging evidence in legal cases arises from the difficulty brain researchers have in separating emotional and physical pain. We know that pain and emotion are tightly linked. In fact, “emotion” is in the very definition of pain. The IASP definition of pain is: “An unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage.”  Yet, the legal system deals with “physical” versus “psychiatric” versus “emotional” pain in different ways.

Chronic pain is associated with anxiety, depression, and stress. These factors can exacerbate the pain, and pain can exacerbate them. Pain’s sensory and emotional components connect in a “feed-forward” cycle. It may not be possible to entirely separate the sensory and emotional components of pain, biologically or experientially. But it might be necessary for the purposes of legal cases, as important areas of law create sharp distinctions between physical and emotional, or body and mind.  Continue reading »

Pain-o-meters: How – and Why – Should We Develop Them?

By Karen Davis, Professor of Neuroscience and Canada Research Chair in Brain and Behaviour, University of Toronto

The prevalence of chronic pain is staggering.  The Institute of Medicine reported in 2011 that 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain – more than those with heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined.  The report also highlights that the annual costs for medical care, lost wages and productivity is more than $600B.  These enormous personal and societal costs of chronic pain has driven an effort to “prove” if and how much pain an individual is suffering from for health care providers, insurance companies and legal actors.  This is challenging because pain is a personal and subjective experience.  Ideally, self report would be sufficient to establish the “ground truth” of the pain experience.

However, some are not able to provide self reports accurately, and the potential financial gain associated with claims of pain has tarnished the perceived authenticity of subjective reports.  This has led some to develop brain imaging-based tests of pain – a so-called “painometer.”  Yet, current technologies are simply not able to determine whether or not someone has chronic pain.  Here, I consider specifically how we could develop a brain-imaging based painometer – and whether we would want to do so.  As we ask: “Can we do it?,” we should always ask, “Is this the right thing to do?”

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The Promise of Effective Pain Treatment Outcomes: Rallying Academic Centers to Lead the Charge

By Christopher J. Gilligan and David Borsook | Pain Medicine | July 27, 2015

The dramatic impact of chronic pain was captured in recent European study that followed patients suffering with chronic pain for 1 year: 40% of those patients had more pain and 40% had less pain, but 100% reported major, negative impacts of chronic pain on their quality of life [1]. Half of patients believed that everything possible had been done to manage their pain. This insight into how patients with chronic pain fare reveals a number of salient points, perhaps most importantly highlighting this condition that persists without cure. Furthermore, accumulating evidence suggests that emotional processing in brain networks is more involved in chronic pain [2] alluding to the nature of the associated suffering with the condition.

Continue reading »