Alex DaSilva, assistant professor of prosthodontics at the University of Michigan, and his team are optimizing the next generation for such a technique, called high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation, or HD-tDCS.
The researchers have published several studies with the conventional tDCS, which also treats pain by "shocking" the brain with low doses of electrical current delivered noninvasively through electrodes placed on the scalp.
The current modulates targeted areas of the brain, and one of the mechanisms is by activating the release of opioid-like painkillers.
HD-tDCS delivers an even more precisely focused current to the targeted areas of the brain.
The increased precision of HD-tDCS means researchers can custom-place the electrodes to the skull. In this way, they can modulate specific areas in the brain to treat a wider range of conditions, such as neuropathic pain and stroke.
One 20-minute session of HD-tDCS significantly reduced overall pain perception in fibromyalgia patients as described in one of the studies.
Researchers control the current by a portable device, which they hope physicians can eventually use in the clinic as a noninvasive treatment for chronic pain patients.