Professor Andrej O. Župančič Memorial Lecture

Apkar Vania Apkarian: Predicting chronic pain

Prof. Dr. Apkar Vania Apkarian

Apkar Vania Apkarian is a professor of physiology, anesthesiology, and physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University in the Feinberg School of Medicine. He was a pioneer in the use of magnetic resonance spectroscopy to study the neurochemistry of the brain and the development of novel analytical approaches to studying consciousness, including the first demonstration of the brain's small-world network properties using fMRI. In 2008, Dr. Apkarian proposed the theory that chronic pain is a form of emotional learning, which popularized the study of reward learning within the pain research field.

Dr. Apkarian earned a master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California and earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York.

Dr. Apkarian's early work with primate electrophysiology established that thalamic neurons can be physiologically characterized based on morphology and projections to the cortex, which led to the discovery that the thalamus dynamically encodes nociceptive stimuli in response to features of sensory stimuli. In the 1990s, his research transitioned to human brain imaging-based investigations of pain qualia and neural mechanisms underlying chronic pain. Dr. Apkarian's research was pivotal in establishing neuroplasticity as a mechanism of chronic pain. in 2004, his group first identified grey matter changes related to chronic back pain, in 2008, his group first described resting state network changes in chronic pain patients and white matter abnormalities related to complex regional pain syndrome, and in 2012 his group published the first evidence that functional connectivity between the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens prospectively predicts the development of chronic back pain. In 2013, Dr. Apkarian published a seminal finding looking at longitudinal changes in the brain as back pain persists for 6 months to over an year. This study shows that the brain representations for subacute back pain look like those for evoked acute pain, but when the back pain persists for over a year and becomes chronic, then the representations shift to regions involved in self-referential fear processing. Dr. Apkarian's research increasingly focuses on improving clinical treatment of chronic pain, including development of preventive treatments. According to Dr. Vania Apkarian it is important to treat pain early to prevent any permanent changes or damage to the nervous system.

Lecture will take place on Friday, 29 September 2023: 18:30 - 19:15 CET

Professor Andrej O. Župančič

Andrej O Zupančič

Professor Andrej O. Župančič (27. januar 1916 - 3. december 2007) was the founder and the first Head of the Institute of Pathophysiology at the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Medicine, Slovenia. Under his guidance, the institute became a center of internationally renowned neuroscience research in Slovenia. Being a fascinating person, he attracted many young scientists into this field and incited neuroscience research also in other university and clinical institutions. He was the first Honorary member of SiNAPSA, accepting our invitation when the society was very young, giving its mission his wholehearted support. Professor Župančič passed away in 2007 and the organizers of the SNC'23 together with his former students and friends in Slovenia dedicate this lecture to his memory.

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