Research Fellows Directory
Dr Giandomenico Iannetti
University College London
The ability to perceive pain is crucial for survival. Pain warns us of damage to our bodies. However, in many instances it would be desirable to reduce the pain we feel (like after surgical interventions, for example). In order to achieve that in an effective way, we would need to know how the brain generates the sensation of pain.
We are able to perceive pain because the contact with potentially dangerous objects (like a hot saucepan) activates specific nerves that transmit the information regarding this danger to the brain. In the brain, this information is processed, leading to the awareness of the painful stimulus. We know from brain scanning experiments that large portions of the brain respond to pain. However, only a part of these process the specific features of information regarding the dangerous stimulus (like how hot the saucepan is, or which hand has touched it). The aim of my research is to understand which activities in the human brain process these specific aspects of the painful stimulus (like where it is, how it feels and how strong it is), as compared to brain activities responsible for processing other less specific aspects of the painful stimulus (for example, how much unknown, surprising or intolerable it is). This is important, because attempts at identifying, localising and understanding the brain activities responsible for processing specific aspects of painful information have not been successful. This information would enable us to produce better and more specific drugs for treating abnormal pain conditions, a considerable advance for both basic research and drug development. In addition, this would yield a robust “objective” measure of pain perception, which is a highly-desired and still unavailable tool in research and clinical practice that, for diagnosis and monitoring of treatment efficacy, still relies too heavily on patients’ “subjective” reports of pain perception.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)