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Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on the Pain Research Forum, and has been adapted for RELIEF.
A task force convened by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) and made up of researchers in neuroimaging (i.e., brain imaging), patient care, neuroethics and law has published a Consensus Statement in the journal Nature Reviews Neurology laying out recommendations for the uses of neuroimaging of pain.
The report, aimed at decision makers in health care, government and law, considers the ethical and legal implications of using neuroimaging to detect or diagnose pain. The report strongly cautions against use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in the courtroom, for example to “prove” the existence of chronic pain, which the authors say would be premature and an inappropriate use of the science. The authors also make the case for increased use of fMRI to understand the brain mechanisms underlying chronic pain and to better target specific treatments to individual patients.
Robert Coghill, a pain brain imager at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, US, who was not an author on the Consensus Statement, applauded the publication.
“There are phenomenal new technologies coming down the pike, and scientists need to be proactive and make sure they’re used to benefit patients rather than to deny them care. This report goes a long way in that direction by pointing out the benefits and the potential pitfalls of using neuroimaging to make decisions about pain,” he says.
However, some researchers not involved in the report are saying it is too stringent, and an overreach of the role of scientists.
For instance, pain brain imager Vania Apkarian, Northwestern University, Chicago, US, called the report a “dark-side view of science” that focuses too heavily on the limitations of neuroimaging without celebrating its recent advances and potential. “They’re missing the positive part of where we are. We are on the threshold of a revolutionary time in the field,” Apkarian says.