Chronic pain affects 20% of the current U.S. population, costs $600 billion/year in lost productivity, and is a main cause of opioid use disorder. Mental health disorders are also pervasive among chronic pain sufferers. Recent scientific advances have made it clear that these different conditions are not independent, but are caused by common brain systems underlying emotion, mood, and motivation.

Chronic pain patients show an abnormal and maladaptive response to life stressors resulting in depression, anxiety, and a reduction in positive emotion. These changes, in turn, amplify pain, creating a vicious cycle of increasing disability. Early detection of dysregulated emotion patterns and their monitoring over time is a key to treating mental illness and chronic pain while they are still reversible. At the forefront of these efforts will be technologies for allowing healthy individuals and patients to easily make multidimensional assessments of pain, emotion. Clinical visits are too brief to allow adequate assessment, and evidence-based tools to analyze trajectories of emotion, pain, are unavailable to clinicians.

Currently, there is no electronic platform that allows people suffering from chronic pain to record and track interactions between pain, emotion and bodily experiences. Additionally, it is problematic to deliver such information to researchers and clinicians who could use it to understand and improve patient health.

Developing a unique mobile platform that:

  1. Allows patients to record and track interactions between pain, emotion, and bodily experiences;
  2. Delivers information about these experiences to clinicians in order to personalize prevention and treatment;
  3. Provides insurance companies with feedback about the status and health trajectories of patient populations

would enable patients to report their experiences in an effortless and engaging way, and also captures patterns of speech and facial expressions, which deliver a readout of patients’ emotional and pain behaviors. The application can be used by patients for self-monitoring and self-insight and will deliver interactive graphics to patients, clinicians and insurance companies, providing an easy-to-digest picture of emotional health and pain over time

The Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab (CANLab) at CU Boulder is betting that a new collaboration with cliexa, Inc., a Denver-based startup that develops interactive mobile healthcare technology, will help lead to more effective treatment strategies for the millions of people around the world suffering from chronic pain.

Our vision as a collaborative Research and Technology teams is to enable patients to track their chronic pain episodes and leverage proprietary technology that makes intelligent correlations between medication, multidimensional self-report and behavioral data with pain symptoms.

This platform would allow all stakeholders involved in the patient’s wellbeing to collect and analyze patient-reported outcomes with innovative reporting and modeling techniques. Dr. Wager’s team has made unique contributions to understanding pain and emotion at brain, psychological, and physiological levels, and developing computational measures for tracking pain and emotion based on multi-modal assessments. This includes the most advanced systems in the world for using machine learning to recognize and track evoked pain intensity with accuracy ~95%.

Exploring those pathways is also the mission of the CANLab, a CU Boulder research team embedded within CU Boulder’s Institute of Cognitive Science (ICS) and headed by Tor Wager, professor of psychology and neuroscience. When CANLab Postdoctoral Researcher Pavel Goldstein and his team began work on a recent project funded jointly by the NIH and cliexa, the team was confronted with several dilemmas that regularly stymie pain studies.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined. Understanding the brain pathways that underlie the generation and regulation of pain and emotion is essential to improving outcomes for this large and growing population.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

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