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A University of Texas at Arlington research team has developed an alternative treatment for opioid addiction. Electrical stimulation of a deep, middle brain structure blocks pain signals at the spinal cord level without drug intervention.

The process also triggers the release of beneficial dopamine, which may reduce the emotional distress associated with long-term pain.

“This is the first study to use a wireless electrical device to alleviate pain by directly stimulating the ventral tegmental area of the brain,” said Yuan Bo Peng, UTA psychology professor. “While still under laboratory testing, this new method does provide hope that in the future we will be able to alleviate chronic pain without the side effects of medications.”

Yuan Bo Peng, UTA psychology professor, and J.-C. Chiao, an electrical engineering professor, used their patented custom-designed wireless device to demonstrate that stimulation of the ventral tegmental area reduced the sensation of pain. The team also confirmed that the stimulation reduced pain signals in the spinal cord, effectively blocking the perception of pain.

“Until this study, the ventral tegmental area of the brain was studied more for its key role in positive reinforcement, reward and drug abuse,” said Peng. “We have now confirmed that stimulation of this area of the brain can also be an analgesic tool.”

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