Researchers at the University of Arizonas College of Medicine are studying a method to treat addiction and chronic pain by focusing on patients brains.

They are partnering with company ni2o, which designed a wearable device that uses several sensors on a patients scalp, along with two electrodes that provide transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).

Allison Huff, assistant professor in the Dept. of Family & Community Medicine, says tDCS is not a brand new treatment method.

Its showing a lot of promise with things like Parkinsons and Alzheimer’s and epilepsy, she said.

The researchers are targeting the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain involved in decision making.

Huff uses the analogy there are several highways connecting each part of the brain, and that tDCS can open new on and off-ramps.

This is not shock therapy, Huff clarified. [The current is] at such a low level that were not changing anything in the brain from the current itself. Were just setting up a situation where the brain kind of wants to change on its own.

We think of [the current] as a distraction, said professor Todd Vanderah, chair of the Department of Pharmacology.

When a person has chronic pain, they keep thinking about it. And that thinking about it, makes it worse Same with substance use disorders, if you can actually have somebody where its breaking the pattern of this continual thought and this impulse to sort of say I need to go out and find some sort of substance, he added.

Vanderah also demonstrated how the treatment would work on a patient, donning the headgear and receiving the current to his forehead.

He said the electrodes felt warm, but other than that the current did not feel painful or intrusive.

Before and after this current is transmitted to break those patterns, a computer tracks the rhythms of a patients brain.

This device would allow us to be able to say, Is there a certain pattern within the brain that we can see? That fits not only individuals, but do we see some kind of general pattern with all of the patients, said Vanderah.

One day, combining those patterns with artificial intelligence could allow the device to adjust and change the electric current for each patient, giving each person a more specific treatment.

Thats really what were looking at here: How can we help people perceive things, respond to things differently and make decisions that are going to improve their symptoms? Huff said.

The treatment also removes the possibility of medicinal treatments that can be addictive or carry side effects.

Right now, treatment for peoplelets say with chronic painit really has failed, as we know with the opioid epidemic, and many other types of medications that result in all different kinds of side effects, said Vanderah.

When asked about potential risks of this tDCS treatment, Huff says there are no reported health risks in otherwise healthy individuals this technology is reported to be safe and effective in the literature.

Huff says, however, the universitys study will not include participants with a known brain injury, such as a stroke or epilepsy.

The team is recruiting participants for the study, which will include a test group, and a placebo group only feeling a small amount of current. Those interested should email Dr. Huff.