Future Leader Spotlight
Behnaz Jarrahi, PhD
Stanford University School of Medicine
Machine Learning to Characterize Effects of Opioids on the Brain in Chronic Pain
How/why did you enter the field of pain?
During my doctoral work at the Neuroradiology Clinic of the University Hospital of Zurich, I became interested in studying the neural correlates of interoception including pain and visceral sensation. My dissertation research provided the first evidence for the direct effect of internal organ interoception on different aspects of human brain network organization. After receiving my doctoral degree in Electrical Engineering and Information Technology, I decided to join the Division of Pain Medicine at Stanford as a Postdoctoral Fellow on a NIDA-funded T32 training program to further my training in clinical neuroimaging data analysis and modeling of chronic pain. I focused on pain because it is a multi-tiered phenomenon that goes beyond mere sensing of the body; it entails the affective-motivational (e.g., restoration of body homeostasis) and cognitive (e.g., decision making, executive control) aspects of the brain. Furthermore, chronic pain is highly prevalent because it ubiquitously cuts across diseases and conditions, thus broadening the relevance and impact of pain research.
What does it mean for you to be a 2018 Future Leaders Recipient?
It's a great privilege to be a 2018 Future Leaders Recipient. The award came at a critical time for me as I was seeking funding to further develop and expand my training and career growth in the field of translational pain. My future direction, which will be facilitated through my training during this award and subsequent NIH R01 grant, will establish my continued line of research aimed at developing machine learning-based approaches in neuroimaging to classify and characterize brain features in health and disease.
What is your favorite part of your work, and why?
As an engineer-turned-neuroscientist, I enjoy the challenge of exploring and adapting the use of new technologies and analysis techniques for better understanding human brain. My favorite part of my research in the field of the translational pain medicine is working with the highly-skilled anesthesiologists, pain physicians, and clinical psychologists. In working with a multi-disciplinary team, I see first-hand how different ways of thinking can help scientists to come up with new ideas in an effort to ultimately improve the quality of life and patient satisfaction.