Reconstructing Pain With MRI

I want to put out this story from 80 Beats in the context of the awesome study that reconstructed vision from fMRI-measured brain activity, which I discussed yesterday, for reasons I’ll explain below.

Stanford researchers set out to find an objective measure of pain in subjects, since self-reported pain is unreliable, which is apparently and understandably a problem in medicine. They basically applied heat to subjects, in either painful or not painful degrees, and measured their brain’s response using fMRI. They created a computer model to correlate the pain to the brain activity, and then tested it by going in the other direction: they used brain scans of subjects exposed to heat and used those scans to predict whether or not the heat was the painful kind. The model was right 81% of the time.

Does this sound very familiar? It sounds incredibly similar to the experimental design of the vision study. Except that this pain study was trying to reformulate a binary experience (painful/not painful; they apparently only had two heat levels) whereas the vision study was reconstructing entire videos – much more impressive, it seems to me. 

My point in posting this is that if you don’t keep up with a field, you’re probably bound to miss a lot of context; I thought the vision study was very novel and revolutionary, but for all I know there have been a hundred other studies like it. Unfortunately you can’t really rely on short articles to give you all that context either. If we do make an effort to keep up with what’s going on though – whether in science, politics, whatever – we’ll be able to take a lot more out of each piece of news. 

So come with me on my keeping-up journey :p  is what I’m getting at. It’s important for us to understand what’s going in our world, and we can’t do it without a little bit of effort. I’ll try my best to help from here!


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