I Feel Your Pain @ Velo!

Another enthusiastic crowd of velocipedal neuroscience and art fans arrived at the incomparable Velo Cult for our first post-daylight savings NW Noggin event…

IMG_1655

Sunlight illuminated the ceiling-mounted bikes as Monique Smith, a graduate student in Behavioral Neuroscience at OHSU, presented fascinating research on empathy and chronic pain to an audience happily sipping pints…

IMG_1659IMG_1679

Monique began with the story of Frida Kahlo’s terrible bus accident in 1925, which broke her spinal column, collarbone, ribs, pelvis and right leg, crushed and dislocated her right foot, dislocated her shoulder  –  and left her with terrible and lifelong bouts of chronic pain.

IMG_1665

Kahlo’s own visual representation of her experience, which Monique movingly discussed, is very compelling…

Frida Kahlo's The Broken Column (1944)

Monique then introduced us to the scientific vocabulary of pain, and spoke to the limitations of current pain assessment and treatment efforts…

IMG_1694IMG_1697IMG_1704

At one point she shared a startling statistic:  one in four Americans suffers from chronic pain.  Of that one fourth, lower back pain leads with 30%, while another 15% experience migraine headaches.  Women are more likely to experience chronic pain than men…

IMG_1720

PNCA art student Mareika Glenn distributed sheets of paper to audience members noting various sources of chronic pain, based on population data…

IMG_1716IMG_1714IMG_1715IMG_1717

Mareika also displayed some of her own striking images of chronic pain…

IMG_1765

Monique then spoke of empathy, and the role of the social environment in the character and persistence of chronic pain.  In her research at OHSU, she has documented pain in rodents suffering from alcohol withdrawal…

IMG_1745IMG_1759

One empathy-related study found that people who saw their romantic partners receive electric shocks experienced areas of brain activation similar to what their partners showed.

IMG_1749

One area of shared activation is the insular lobe, where much of the internal state of the body, including sensory inputs from neurons that detect tissue damage (called “nociceptors”), and temperature (“thermoreceptors”), is mapped in great detail…

IMG_1747IMG_1751

Monique also reported more striking discoveries from her own graduate efforts in the laboratory of Andrey Ryabinin at OHSU.  Monique discovered that mice suffering pain from alcohol withdrawal transferred that pain to other mice, and did so at least partly via olfactory cues!  The bedding alone was enough to provoke pain responses in mice not previously in distress…

IMG_1763IMG_1757

This is exciting work..!

UPDATE:  Monique’s research on the social transmission of pain via olfactory cues was published in Science Advances in October, 2016!

LEARN MORE:  Social transfer of pain in mice

Many thanks to Monique, Mareika, and Velo Cult for their enthusiastic support for neuroscience/art outreach in the Portland/Vancouver area..!

IMG_1775

Comments are closed