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The FRESCO@CNAP PhD Fellows

Ali Asghar Zarei, Iran

Sensory feedback to investigate and drive cortical plasticity during phantom pain

Ali Asghar Zarei received his Bachelor's degree in Electronic Engineering from Sadjad University, Mashhad, Iran, in 2013, and his Master's degree in Biomedical Engineering from Amirkabir University, Tehran, Iran, in 2017.

Ali's project will be investigating the cortical plasticity during phantom pain following by sensorimotor interaction. Today the underlying mechanism of PLP is unknown, but modulation of cortical plasticity has shown to be correlated with onset and relief of PLP. To understand the effectiveness of sensory feedback, Ali has done his first PhD study to explore the cortical and perceptual responses following high-frequency electrical stimulation applied as surface electrical stimulation on healthy subjects. The focus of the PhD project is to investigate possible altered cortical responses following steady-state electrical stimulation in amputees and healthy subjects. This methodology may be beneficial for the design of possible therapies using sensory input to alleviate PLP. In this way, the effect of sensory feedback on PLP would be investigated by conducting experiments on amputees with PLP and comparing the results with healthy subjects' cortical activity.

 

Armita Faghani Jadidi, Iran

Novel sensory feedback paradigm for alleviation of phantom limb pain

Ms. Armita Faghani was born in the province of Bobolsar (Mazandaran, Iran) in 1991. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering (2014 and 2017, respectively) from Amirkabir University of Tehran (AUT). Her background is in bio-signal processing, cognitive science, and machine learning.

Ms. Faghani's current PhD project investigates the effects of different modulated electrical stimulation (MES) patterns on the cortical excitability to eventually enhance pain reduction processes with electrical stimulation input in patients with phantom limb pain (PLP). She is doing the experiment phase of her first study on healthy subjects. The excitability of neural pathways and possible changes in the cortical plasticity map following MES input are evaluated by using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) and recording Motor Evoked Potential (MEP).

For the next studies, she will examine the effects of MES patterns on cortical activity (EEG study), cortical plasticity (TMS study), and amputees' pain relief. Comparative analysis of healthy subjects and amputees' results will be performed to investigate CS markers evoked by the specific types of stimuli that induce changes in perception of phantom limb. This project will be part of the future goal, applying two-way sensory input (music and modulated electrical stimulation (MES) together) to study the effects of long-term multi-sensory input on patients with PLP experience.

Felipe Rettore Andreis, Brazil

Comparison of Electrical Stimulation Paradigms in a Large Animal Model

Mr. Felipe Rettore Andreis received his Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from University of Passo Fundo, Brazil, in 2016, and his Master’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil, in 2018.

Felipe's project will be investigating, in a large animal model (i.e., pig), how the peripheral and cortical pathways are activated following the most commonly used electrical stimulation paradigms currently used in pain research. By understanding how the peripheral mechanisms respond to multiple electrical stimulation paradigms, we may have a better understanding of the contribution of nociceptive and non-nociceptive fibres on cortical pathways. The results may guide more effective methods for investigating pain research in an acute setting. Moreover, using a large animal model of pain may increase the efficacy of the translational animal models to understand pain processing.

 

 

 

Luisina Gregoret, Argentina

 

Modulatory effects of non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) on experimentally induced pain

Ms. Luisina Gregoret received her undergraduate and postgraduate education on Biomedical Engineering at University of Entre Rios (FI-UNER), Argentina. She started her early research experience on stress-induced cardiovascular alterations on healthy individuals. Her main fields of interest are advanced signal processing and pain neuroscience.

Her current projects investigate the modulatory effects of non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) through transcranial direct current sitmulation (tDCS) during prolonged experimental pain. The assessments are performed through electroencephalography (EEG), electromyography (EMG) and psychophysical measures. Such analyses will increase the understanding of pain-related neuroplasticity by means of cortical reorganization, corticospinal excitability and descending pain mechanisms and the way mechanism-based tDCS could further promote advantageous neuroplasticity. Specifically, the focus is placed upon the influence of tDCS of the left motor cortex and regions linked to the resting state motor network (network-tDCS). Her first PhD study demonstrated that network-tDCS normalizes the corticomotor consequences and impaired descending inhibitory pathways elicited due to prolonged pain. Her current study explores the potential link between brain oscillations and the response to tDCS during prolonged pain. The results of her studies can potentially improve current therapeutic non-invasive protocols through characterizing the role played by relevant brain networks in the processing and integration of nociceptive and painful stimuli.

Marco Rizzo, Italy

 

Neurophysiological effects of mirror box training in sensorimotor cortical interaction: an EEG study

Mr. Marco Rizzo was born in the province of Cosenza (Calabria, Italy) in the year 1992. He received his Master’s Degree in Cognitive Neuroscience (2017) from the University La Sapienza of Rome. For a year he worked with analyses of the electroencephalographic rhythms in patients with dementia.

Marco’s project aims to investigate the sensorimotor interaction occurring with the combination of hands motor tasks and painful stimuli. The innovative aspect is the activation of the primary motor cortex through an illusory hand movement, using the mirror box procedure. Then it will be tested whether the illusory activation is able to gate the pain information processing on the primary somatosensory cortex. The second part of the project aims to test whether a mirror box training may produce a neruoplastic effect in the motor cortex in order to enhance the cortical sensorimotor interaction (showed by a reduction in pain perception). The cortical activation pattern is investigated through the (de)synchronization of the alpha EEG rhythm. Moreover, dispositional psychological characteristics (e.g. body awareness, catastrophizing) will be analyzed in order to detect significant predictors of individual differences in pain perception and mirror box responsiveness.

This far, the study has shown that the observation of the reflected hand produces a contralateral activation of the motor cortex. The interaction with the somatosensory cortex needs further investigations.

The discoveries made in this framework could be crucial for future therapies based on mirror box, for patients with chronic pain due to phantom limb pain.

Mauricio C. Henrich, Italy/Argentina

Mechanisms involved in spinal integration of nociceptive information

Mauricio C. Henrich was born in San Nicolás de los Arroyos, (Buenos Aires, Argentina). Back in Argentina, during his studies at Universidad Nacional de Entre Ríos, he worked with signal processing of intracerebral recordings of Parkinson’s Disease patients, developing a program to support the implantation of the stimulation electrodes for Deep Brain Stimulation therapy.

He is currently studying mechanisms involved in the integration of nociceptive stimuli at the spinal level in healthy humans. In his project, Mauricio uses sophisticated electrophysiological techniques to study the Nociceptive Withdrawal Reflex elicited by the electrical stimulation of the sole of the foot. Together with the assessment of other psychophysical measures, he aims at further understanding the functional implications of neuronal plasticity in spinal and cortical sensory-motor processing.

In his last study, conditions to facilitate descending modulation of spinal processing are being used, aiming at modulating the effect of the integrative mechanisms characterized in his previous studies. Those mechanisms are thought to play a role in the transition from acute to chronic pain. Therefore, the clarification of their role in the spinal nociceptive processing will shed light upon the overall understanding of the pain experience.

Najah Al Hajri, Oman

 

Probing and modulating changes in EEG resting state functional connectivity of the default mode network during acute and prolonged pain

Najah Al Hajri is from Oman. She received her master’s degree in rehabilitation sciences from the University of British Columbia in Canada in 2017. Her project will be investigating the underlying mechanisms of acute and prolonged pain from a network perspective.

The PhD project consists of 3 studies. The first study examines changes in resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) of the default mode network associated with 1 hour of acute pain. The pain model is topical capsaicin 8% patch applied to the forearm. The second study investigates changes in (rsFC) of the default mode network associated with prolonged pain (24 hours) using the same pain model. The third study examines whether rsFC changes resulting from 1 hour-acute pain could be modulated by motor learning using the same pain model in studies 1 and 2. Data collection and analysis for the first study will be finalized over the summer period (2020) along with the manuscript for the first paper. 

Examining brain networks and connectivity during prolonged pain would enhance our understanding of the changes in brain networks (i.e. neuroplasticity) associated with the transition from acute to chronic pain, as well as how these changes can be modulated by motor learning. Further, exploring how brain networks under pain conditions are sensitive to motor learning would help in designing motor rehabilitation interventions that maximize these networks for better outcomes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taha Al Muhammadee Janjua, Pakistan

Assessment of intracortical signals taken from a large animal (pig) pain model

Born in UK (1992), Taha Al Muhammadee Janjua spent most of his life in Pakistan where he completed his undergraduate studies in Mechatronics Engineering (2015) and received his Master’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering (2018) from the National University of Science and Technology (NUST).

Taha has worked extensively on prosthesis and signal processing. His research interests include: Machine Learning, High Density sEMG and EEG signal processing, biomechanics, rehabilitation engineering and computer vision.

Taha's project is primarily focused on the assessment of intracortical signals taken from a large animal pain model. The objective being to understand cortical pain processing mechanisms based on neural information extracted from intracortical (IC) and ECoG signals. This information is extracted based on the cortical response to noxious and non-noxious electrical stimulation before and after Long Term Potentiation (LTP)-like pain model is implemented on an anesthetized pig. 

The project is currently in the ‘Experiments phase’ where the signals are extracted from the brain and recorded for post processing in the next stage. Taha’s work validates the involvement of different brain areas in response to pain such as, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the primary somatosensory cortex (S1). It highlights the interchangeability the IC and ECoG that can prove to be useful for chronic pain studies. Furthermore, since pigs are physiologically closer to humans than rodents, this research is crucial for future preclinical trials of analgesics.