Pain is no ordinary phenomenon—it’s a symphony of neural and vascular interactions orchestrated by the brain and spinal cord. Attempting to dissect this intricate process by focusing on a single region is like trying to understand a complex melody by listening to just one instrument. It’s incomplete, potentially misleading, and may result in erroneous conclusions.

Enter the Carney Institute’s team of visionaries. Their mission? To develop tools that allow unprecedented observation of neural and vascular activity within the brain and spinal cord. They tackled two critical fronts: imaging hardware and bioluminescent (BL) molecular tools.

Innovative Imaging Hardware

Multi-organ imaging during clinically relevant sensory processes is notoriously challenging. Until now, there were no methodological protocols and tools to guide imaging multiple sites during these sensory behaviors. As reported in Neurophotonics, the team engineered 3D-printed brain and spinal cord implants, revolutionizing surgical implantations and optical access. Wearable miniscopes, coupled with universal implants for advanced microscopy or optogenetic stimulation, now provide a backstage pass to the brain and spinal cord.

Bioluminescent Imaging

BL imaging overcomes the limitations of traditional fluorescent microscopy. It eliminates issues like photobleaching, phototoxicity, and resolution loss due to scattered excitation signals. The team introduced the “BLmini,” a modified miniscope optimized for capturing elusive BL signals.

The Carney Institute’s “universal” implants allow simultaneous acute and chronic imaging of brain-spinal interactions. Imagine watching a live concert from both the orchestra pit and the balcony—now apply that to neural circuits. The BLmini, with its reduced weight, cost, and form factor, is the star performer, revealing hidden signals like never before.

Expanding the Horizon

This coalition of 3D-printed implants, advanced microscopy tools, and bioluminescence techniques holds promise beyond pain research. Neuropathic pain, sensory disorders, and motor behavior are all within its reach. As the spotlight shines on the brain-spinal duet, we’re one step closer to unraveling the symphony of sensory phenomena.

The Carney Institute’s groundbreaking work not only advances our understanding of pain but also opens new avenues for exploring a wide range of neurological and sensory disorders. By harmonizing neural and vascular imaging, we are poised to unlock the secrets of the brain and spinal cord, bringing us closer to innovative treatments and therapies.

By Impact Lab