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October 2, 2023

Tami Bar-Shalita, PhD

Tel Aviv University

The ICRF – Redhill Foundation Project Grant

Train the brain to block pain: In Israel, some 4,000 new breast-cancer cases are diagnosed annually. Survivorship is increasing due to hormonal therapy, but many patients develop pain and cognitive impairment as side effects of such treatment. Given that pain and cognition are linked both behaviorally and in brain activity, Dr. Bar-Shalita and her team are exploring neurofeedback therapy, a non-invasive and non-pharmacological treatment that may prevent worsening clinical symptoms by training the brain. 

Listen to Dr. Bar-Shalita and her colleague Dr. Yelena Granovsky (of Rambam Health Care Campus) discuss their work.

Please tell us about your current research project (in simple terms, so that lay people will understand).  

While the prevalence of life-saving hormonal therapy survivorship is increasing, many if not most will develop pain and cognitive impairment over the years of survivorship due to the life-saving treatment. These may compromise long-term medication compliance, affecting survival and disease recurrence, as well as violating breast cancer survivor quality of life and daily function, leading to medical and societal burden. To date no treatment has been provided for preventing chronic pain and severe cognitive deterioration.   

Given that cognition and pain are linked both behaviorally and in brain activity, this research goal is to explore neurofeedback therapy, a non-invasive and non-pharmacological treatment to prevent the worsening of clinical symptoms via training the brain. Neurofeedback therapy has been proven to reduce pain as well as improve cognition; however, targeting both as a preventive treatment is a novel approach which this study proposes. It should be noted that this proposal is anchored in recent recommendations relating to patient perception as the main outcome measure of treatment. Moreover, we bring together a broad breast cancer clinical experience in addition to cognitive, pain, and sensory expertise, as well as experience in neurofeedback research. This is a multidisciplinary, multi-center research project.  

What excites you most about your research (if this is something you are comfortable sharing)?

From a scientific perspective, this study is the first to utilize neurofeedback for prevention of chronic pain and cognitive decline worsening in this population. Moreover, this research project can prove in vivo our theoretical approach that modulating individual brain activity, associated with both pain perception and cognitive functioning, can prevent the development of future pain and the worsening of cognitive decline. 

From a clinical perspective, since breast cancer survivors are struggling to return to previous roles, functioning, and quality of life, this research project may elicit a novel therapeutic modality which will enhance quality of life and function in breast cancer survivorship.  

Where do you hope this will lead in practical terms?  

We hope that this study will lead to a new treatment approach that can be easily applied, at the patient’s home (remote treatments) during initiation of hormonal treatment. This may increase long-term medication compliance, supporting survival efforts. In addition, this study may help in characterizing those who will benefit from neurofeedback therapy prior to treatment initiation. 

What has receiving an ICRF grant meant to you and your career?  

This is a great honor for our team.  

The grant enables the implementation of our novel empirical approach for the benefit of many breast cancer survivors. We believe our future findings in this research project will reach new horizons in the breast cancer therapeutic approach and foremost in the lives of many breast cancer survivors as well as in our academic careers.  

Read more about this research

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