My research focuses on two main areas – the perception and neural mechanisms of pain in humans, and information security in implantable neuromodulation devices.
Chronic pain affects many millions worldwide and poses a substantial burden both to those suffering from it and to healthcare systems. Current pain management therapies are limited, and our ability to measure pain is crude and highly subjective at present. As such, I and my colleagues are utilising neurological recording techniques combined with carefully controlled sensory stimuli to identify the neural activity associated with subjective experience of pain. I am also conducting a clinical trial into inexpensive pain relief treatments that, if shown to be effective, could substantially improve the treatment of pain worldwide.
Medical device security, my secondary focus, is an under-studied but highly important emerging field within information security and biomedical research. I am attempting to address issues specific to neurological implants such as implantable pulse generators used for deep brain stimulation. These implants are used to treat tens of thousands of patients with movement disorders and chronic pain syndromes, and are being investigated for use in a range of other conditions. Although many patients experience great relief from these neuromodulation therapies, the devices are potentially highly vulnerable to electronic attack; a vulnerability that is only likely to increase as the devices get more complex and more prevalent. As such, with the help of my colleagues, I am working on identifying methods of ameliorating this risk. As part of this I am collaborating with the Future of Humanity Institute to identify and discuss philosophical issues pertinent to the area.
I also do some work on public engagement with science; in 2006 I founded a campaign group called Pro-Test, which demonstrated in favour of responsible biomedical research utilising animals. Since then I have intermittently lectured, debated, and written articles discussing the importance of animal research, alongside a variety of other topical issues in biomedicine, notably pharmacological enhancement of cognition.