News Release 

Kessler Foundation to study neuroimaging neurofeedback for pain after spinal cord injury

Dr. Zanca awarded a $299,000 grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation for a novel study of neurofeedback via functional MRI for self-management of neuropathic pain

Kessler Foundation


IMAGE: Dr. Zanca is senior research scientist in the Centers for Spinal Cord Injury Research and Outcomes and Assessment Research. view more 

Credit: Kessler Foundation

East Hanover, NJ. July 26, 2019. Jeanne Zanca, PhD, MPT, of Kessler Foundation received a $299,000 grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation for a pilot study to develop new strategies for the management of neuropathic pain in individuals with spinal cord injury. This will be the first study to examine neurofeedback mediated by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) for facilitating the learning of self-management strategies for neuropathic pain post-spinal cord injury.

Dr. Zanca is senior research scientist in the Center for Spinal Cord Injury Research at Kessler Foundation, and co- investigator with the federally funded Northern New Jersey Spinal Cord Injury System.

Neuropathic pain is common among people with chronic spinal cord injury, is often severe, and can interfere significantly with daily life. Medications often provide only partial relief from pain and can produce side effects like constipation or sleepiness that reduce quality of life. Complementary therapies such as acupuncture and cognitive behavioral therapy have been tested with limited success. Developing effective non-pharmacologic ways to help individuals manage neuropathic pain will improve their quality of life and their participation at home, in the community, and the workplace.

This pilot study is based on a new approach - training individuals to use neurofeedback to modulate their pain using real-time fMRI of the anterior cingulate cortex --the area of brain associated with pain. This technique of fMRI neurofeedback has been studied in other populations with chronic nerve-based pain, according to Dr. Zanca, and has helped them reduce their pain sensations by self-controlling brain activity. "We will see whether this technique helps people with spinal cord injury learn thinking strategies that they can use in daily life to reduce the intensity and unpleasantness of their pain," she explained.

The study will use a randomized design with two groups of 15 participants. Both groups will receive identical instructions regarding cognitive strategies they may use to control brain activity, but feedback will differ in order to determine if different kinds of feedback produce different effects. Imaging studies will be conducted at the Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation, a rehabilitation research-dedicated facility.


This study is funded by Craig H. Neilsen Foundation grant #599312.

About Craig H. Neilsen Foundation

The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation's funding is dedicated to supporting both programs and scientific research to improve the quality of life for those affected by and living with spinal cord injury. Craig H. Neilsen established the Foundation in 2002 to award grants to a broad spectrum of charities, including those that benefit spinal cord injury efforts. Today, the vision of the Foundation is such that individuals with spinal cord injuries, and those who care for them, live full and productive lives as active participants in their communities.

Learn more by visiting

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities.

Learn more by visiting

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