Pain, Addiction and Mental Health Psychiatry

Chronic pain is a significant global health problem affecting 1.5 billion people world-wide. Current treatments are largely ineffective, targeting generic symptoms rather than disease-specific mechanisms, with pharmacological interventions (often opioid-based) being a mainstay approach. The combination of inadequate treatments for chronic pain, as well as the potential for patients to become dependent on pharmaceutical treatments, means there is an urgent need for the development of effective, non-pharmaceutical, and practically accessible novel treatment approaches.

The Pain, Addiction and Mental Health research group led by Dr Bernadette Fitzgibbon is a unique research program dedicated to understanding the neurobiology of pain and the development of novel pain therapeutics. It aims to develop an in-depth understanding of the interplay between physical and mental health, exploring vulnerability and resilience and their impact on brain function and plasticity. With this knowledge, Dr Fitzgibbon’s group aims to accelerate the development of new and effective treatments by identifying biological targets that represent the interaction between psychosocial and biological processes in pain disorders.

The Pain, Addiction and Mental Health group’s research uses a range of methods, including Theta-Burst Stimulation (TBS), Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS), transcranial Alternating Current Stimulation (tACS), electroencephalogram (EEG), concurrent TMS-EEG, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Electrocardiography (ECG) and Galvanic Skin Resistance (GSR), as well as the use of novel at-home brain stimulation adjunctive with psychological therapies.

Group Head - Dr Bernadette Fitzgibbon

Current Research Trials

Clinical Trials

Below is the list of clinical trials including a brief description, trial type and coordinator details.

TBS for Fibro | Mindfulness, tACS & Pain | tACS in Anxiety | Brain Stim and VR for Schizophrenia | Rehab & TBS

A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial of prefrontal theta burst stimulation in fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) - TBS for Fibro

A double-blind, randomized, sham-controlled proof of principle trial to establish the efficacy of Theta Burst Stimulation (TBS) treatment in fibromyalgia. (Investigator initiated)

Dr Bernadette Fitzgibbon

Mindfulness and Pain - Mechanisms, limitations and Innovative tools to enhance mindfulness practice amongst chronic pain populations  - Mindfulness, tACS & Pain

The study explores the effects of mindfulness-meditation on chronic pain, and whether the effects of mindfulness can be enhanced through non-invasive brain stimulation (transcranial alternating current stimulation). (Investigator initiated – PhD Study)

Dr Michael Wang

tACS modulation in cognitive flexibility in Anxiety disorders - tACS in Anxiety

This trial is exploring how tACS may improve attentional control and decrease state anxiety across individuals with high and low levels of trait anxiety, which may include individuals with generalised anxiety disorder and/or social anxiety disorder and/or specific phobia. (Investigator initiated – PhD Study)

Jessica Michael

Combining brain stimulation and virtual reality to improve social cognition in schizophrenia - Brain Stim and VR for Schizophrenia

This trial is investigating whether combining tACS with virtual reality social cognition training improves theory of mind processing in participants with schizophrenia beyond that of virtual reality training alone. (Investigator initiated – PhD Study)

Kirsten Gainsford

A proof-of-concept randomized trial of prefrontal Theta Burst Stimulation prior to a 6 week pain management program - Rehab & TBS

To examine if TBS prior to a six week pain intervention can improve clinical outcomes for individuals with CLBP, investigate how brain network dynamics are modulated by TBS in this population – Not yet recruiting (Investigator initiated)

Dr Bernadette Fitzgibbon

Experimental Trials

Impact of COVID-19: online surveysBack pain and opioid use | Predicting TBS for Fibro outcomes | Identifying factors of low back pain

Below is the list of experimental trials including a brief description, trial type and coordinator details.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental and cognitive health - Impact of COVID-19: online surveys

The aim of this study is to explore the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental and cognitive health examining resilience and risk factors in the general community and those who have experienced COVID 19, using online surveys. (Investigator initiated)

Dr Oscar Murphy

Identifying network oscillations relevant to chronic low back pain comorbid with opioid use disorder for targeted interventions - Back pain and opioid use

This project aims to identify dysfunctional oscillations relevant to chronic low back pain comorbid with chronic opioid use, providing critical information on treatment targets that may be applied within a specific, difficult-to-treat, pain phenotype in future investigations. (Investigator initiated)

Dr Bernadette Fitzgibbon

The utility of the central sensitivity score (CSS): Prediction of outcomes after theta burst stimulation (TBS) program for fibromyalgia - Predicting TBS for Fibro outcomes

An analysis of clinical trial data determining whether the CSS can predict treatment outcome for individuals with Fibromyalgia undergoing TBS. (Investigator initiated)

Dr Bernadette Fitzgibbon

Identifying factors associated with the onset and persistence of low back pain - Identifying factors of low back pain

A series of studies to  first to determine the contributions of various biological, psychosocial and CNS factors for new-onset LBP and CLBP. (Investigator initiated)

Scott David Tagliaferri (Deakin)