Seeing the secrets of the brain

Brain disorders are among the most serious medical challenges facing society today. When a father suffers a stroke or a mother lives with excruciating neuropathic pain, everyone suffers. Thanks to donor investment, UHN researchers are pioneering curative therapies and driving new approaches in medical imaging that may one day stop these life-robbing diseases from hurting so many families.

We talked to Dr. Mojgan Hodaie, neurosurgeon and Surgical Co-Director, Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Family Gamma Knife Centre, Toronto Western Hospital, about how she’s advancing research and patient care and how donor support is key to her continued success.

Q: Your lab is known for its innovative approach to the study of neuropathic pain. How does neuropathic pain differ from other pain people might experience?

A: Neuropathic pain arises from nerve injury. It is typically so severe that it interferes with every part of your daily life. It is a silent disease that causes many people to suffer terribly.

Q: How is your research hoping to make a difference?

A: The solution to the understanding of neuropathic pain has been elusive. Science and medicine have advanced significantly, but we still lack a tool that allows us to assess pain objectively. Most of our assessments are based on the subjective experience of pain. My laboratory is dedicated to the understanding of how the brain changes in neuropathic pain. As a surgical laboratory, we see enormous potential in brain imaging. We use new, non-invasive methods of analysis of brain images to detect specific signatures that chronic pain leaves on the brain. Many of these techniques involve new ways of looking at white matter fibres – the conduits that carry information through the brain. We focus on a variety of disorders, but an important one is trigeminal neuralgia – a severe form of neuropathic facial pain. This novel way of studying pain will help us design better treatments, and provides greater hope for relief.

Q: How important is donor support to your research?

A: The direct impact of donors and their contribution allows our research to drive forward. All these plans and projects come with a financial cost. Donor support has been crucial to my lab’s research and success. The unique work done in our laboratory is known internationally, attracting many scientists who wish to learn these techniques. This in turn increases the international profile of UHN as well. When donors support this work they are having a tremendous impact at home and also thousands of miles away. It is very rewarding to know that together we can relieve suffering and pain.

Did you know? Dr. Hodaie was the first female neurosurgeon on staff at UHN and holds the rank of Professor in the Department of Surgery, University of Toronto. She is one of only a few women in Canada practising neurosurgery.

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