Gee Whizz

first_imgMeet Irene Tracy, Professor of PainHaving a title that sounds like a breakaway hip-hop act from the early nineties is not exactly what you’d expect from the world of scientific research. Explaining her line of work at dinner parties must be torture, because Irene Tracy is The Professor of Pain.Tracey’s extended, and less catchy, title is Head of the Pain Imaging Neuroscience Group at the Department of Human Anatomy and Genetics at the FMRIB centre in Oxford. She is also a fellow of Christ Church, where they’re all a little sadistic.Speaking professionally, she says ‘Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional (conscious) experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage.’ Unpleasant? Is that it? I can imagine her during one of the experiments: ‘Now, just sit back, relax and I’m going to gently puncture your eardrum with this extremely large and dangerous looking syringe. All I want you to do is tell me when it feels unpleasant.’ Err…now.20% of the adult population suffers from chronic pain, which makes it one of the largest medical health problems in the developing world. But until recent technological advances, it has been near impossible to obtain objective information from willing (and crazy) volunteers. A GP would have been more likely to diagnose you as a chronic whiner than a chronic sufferer. Tracey and her researchers are focused on determining the brain’s response to nociceptive (i.e. painful) stimuli and how anxiety, attention, distraction and anticipation affect pain perception. What exactly that entails in practice I hate to think. I was extremely excited when I saw a link saying ‘Photo Gallery’ on the official research website. Expecting images of people being hung from the ceiling by their nipples, you can imagine my disappointment when it was only pictures of the researchers taking a group tour to a secluded, undisclosed location. Actually, perhaps that’s more sinister.Whatever the exact details of the experiments themselves we know that the team is, completely ethically, working towards finding both prescription and non-pharmacological (what you don’t know can’t hurt you) treatments for pain alleviation. Whoever said you don’t get what you want if you make a fuss?by Roland Singer-Kingsmithlast_img read more