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New exhibition, ‘Pain Less’, opens at the Science Museum, London

8 November 2012

A free exhibition, ‘Pain Less: The future of pain relief’, which explores the future of pain relief and the different ways that pain management is being developed, opens today at the Science Museum.

Pain relief is a huge area of research. Scientists are constantly looking at new ways to manage pain and investigating how they can help us to overcome pain in the future, but would a pain-free world be a good thing?

Through four main research areas into pain and consciousness, 'Pain Less' looks at the personal stories that highlight these different areas. Steven Pete is a man who feels no pain, whereas Peter King, a phantom limb patient, is in constant pain except when he exercises his missing arm in virtual reality. Carol Praetorius appeared to feel pain while sedated but had no memory of it afterwards, and Melvin Mezue volunteers as a subject of pain research.

Supported by a Wellcome Trust Society Award, 'Pain Less' asks whether this new research into how we perceive pain could also help reduce pain, as well as the number of painkillers we're popping - according to a recent survey, just under 6 billion painkillers were sold in the UK last year.

Suzy Antoniw, head of content for 'Pain Less', said; "All of us have a personal relationship to pain, but is our current way of dealing with pain working or do we need to think differently? A world without pain could be dangerous, but for the one in five who live in chronic pain, it could be life-changing.

"The Science Museum's new 'Pain Less' exhibition explores the future of pain relief and whether new understanding of the link between the brain and body can help us find ways to overcome pain. 'Pain Less' encourages us to consider what a future with less pain would mean for us."

Painkillers and powerful anaesthetics work for most people but have side-effects: drugs may become less effective and can be addictive. 'Pain Less' covers four new research areas into pain and consciousness and the part our minds play in managing it. It asks whether this new research can help the future of pain relief. The research areas are:

No pain
Some people feel no pain because of a genetic mutation that blocks signals between the body and the brain. Drug developers are looking for ways to use this mutation and find new pain treatments, free of side-effects. It has led them to use tarantula venom as a potential source for painkillers.

Mood and pain
Pain is more than a simple physical response. New research tells us that the brain reacts differently to the same sensory stimulus according to cognition, context and emotion. Neuroscientists use lasers, poking sticks and brain scans to find out more about how our emotions and expectations influence the way we experience pain.

Brain training
Phantom limb pain feels like it is in a lost limb. The pain exists, but we don't know where it really is. New treatments use gaming technology to 'trick' the brain and reduce pain. These virtual treatments could help with other types of chronic pain.

Losing consciousness
We lose consciousness through anaesthesia to avoid feeling pain during surgery. Research into memory under anaesthesia suggests that we might feel pain but not remember it. Can new technology to monitor consciousness help prevent the rare cases of pain awareness during anaesthesia?

Major funders include the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, with additional support from the British Journal of Anaesthesia, Anaesthesia (the Journal of the AAGBI), the Association of Paediatric Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland, the Obstetric Anaesthetists' Association, and The British Pain Society.

Visitor information

Science Museum
Exhibition Road
London SW7 2DD, UK
+44 (0)870 870 4868
Open daily, 10.00-18.00, except 24-26 December.

Image: Aspirin crystals. Credit: Annie Cavanagh, Wellcome Images.

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