Chronic back pain research receives $600,000 boost

University of Otago senior research fellow Dr Divya Adhia examines a model of a head wearing a...
University of Otago senior research fellow Dr Divya Adhia examines a model of a head wearing a cap containing a brain stimulation device, at the neurosurgery department of the Dunedin School of Medicine yesterday. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
A solution to chronic back pain is one step closer after a Dunedin researcher was awarded a fellowship to trial a new brain-based stimulation treatment.

University of Otago senior research fellow Dr Divya Adhia was awarded a nearly $600,000 fellowship as one of 76 recipients of the Health Research Council’s (HRC) career development awards.

Her research explores if electrically stimulating the brain can alleviate chronic lower back pain.

Dr Adhia said it was an honour and delight to receive such a prestigious fellowship.

"Chronic pain is quite a huge burden to society and I feel really proud to be working in this area and developing new treatments for management of chronic pain.

"Seeing that my research has been acknowledged, it is a proud moment."

Chronic pain was influenced by biological, psychological, social and lifestyle factors, she said.

Her previous research had shown abnormal activity between three networks of the brain was associated with worse pain, function and wellbeing experienced by people with chronic lower back pain.

As it was a complex issue moderated largely by the brain, she would test if brain-based therapy could enhance pain modulation and produce meaningful clinical benefits, she said.

While similar research had preceded hers, her research was different because it targeted multiple regions of the brain, used advanced technology and had a unique waveform.

The technique involved normalising an abnormal electrical connectivity between the three brain networks, and would be piloted as a home-based treatment option.

By targeting this "triple brain network activity" and exploring its effect on pain it would create new knowledge and could lead to a new solution for those suffering from chronic pain, she said.

Twenty University of Otago research fellows were awarded a total of about $3.5 million from the $15m pool up for grabs.

An HRC spokeswoman said the university was very well represented in both numbers and quality this funding round, which was traditionally the case.

— Tim Scott, PIJF cadet reporter