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New MRI Study Shows Babies Can Already Feel Pain 'Like Adults'

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A new study that included Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans suggests that infants can feel pain just like adults.

Dr. Rebeccah Slater, an associate professor of paediatric neuroimaging at the Oxford University, who is also the lead author of the study, suggests that several pain regions in the brain that are active in adults are also active in babies.

The study involved 10 healthy babies who were between one and six days old and 10 healthy people aged between 23 and 36 years. The babies were put in MRI scanners where they fell asleep. The researchers took MRI scans of the brain of the infants while they were poked at the base of their feet using a retracting rod.

The poking was mild and did not wake the babies. The adults also underwent a similar pain stimulus, which was four times stronger than what was used on the babies. MRI scans were compared to get a clearer picture of the pain experienced by babies and adults.

The study found that 18 out of 20 regions of brain that were active in adults were also active in the infants. The results found that a slight poke on the feet of the babies had the same response on the brain as experienced by the brain of adult participants.

Till now, scientists believed that it was not possible to examine pain in infants with the help of an MRI scanner; one of the reasons is that babies do not remain still in MRI scanners. However, Slater suggests that babies who are less than a week old are quieter than older babies. Slater also suggests that it is the first study that has observed pain in very young infants with the help of MRI scanners.

Slater reveals that some people believe that the brains of babies are not developed enough to feel pain. However, the latest study reveals that babies also feel pain just like adults but the threshold of pain is much lower than adults.

"This is particularly important when it comes to pain: obviously babies can't tell us about their experience of pain and it is difficult to infer pain from visual observations," says Slater.

Many babies undergo surgeries but there are no guidelines to administer pain killer on the babies. The study authors believe that if older children are given pain killers then doctors should also consider giving pain killer to young infants to relieve pain during a surgery.

Photo: Tom Godber | Flickr

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