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Radio: The Life Scientific, BBC Radio 4


Irene Tracey explains to Jim Al-Khalili how imaging the brain, when subjects feel pain, is transforming our understanding of this puzzling sensation.

TV: BBC Two, Horizon

04/10/2018, 21:00

Working with experts from the University of Oxford, Dr Michael Moseley explores the placebo effect, conducting an experiment involving more than 100 people with back pain. Featured from Oxford are Professor Irene Tracey, Dr Jeremy Howick and Professor Andy Carr.

TV: Fibromyalgia: 'Like red hot lava radiating through my body', BBC


The New Yorker: The Neuroscience of Pain


Radio: BBC World Service, Discovery

18/02/2018, 02:34

Professor Irene Tracey of Oxford University hosts a programme looking at the ‘dark side’ of pain, including interviews with survivors of torture.

Radio: From Agony to Analgesia, BBC Radio 4

16/08/17, 23/08/17

Irene Tracey, professor of neuroimaging at Oxford University, explores pain.

A deafening shriek of psychopathic violins

The Guardian online, 25/01/2017, p.27, John Walsh

Professor Irene Tracey, head of the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, is interviewed as part of an article exploring how we measure and think about pain.

How much does it hurt?: The methods used by doctors to measure pain

The Independent, 10/01/2017, John Walsh

Professor Irene Tracey, head of the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, is interviewed as part of an article exploring how we measure and think about pain.

Radio: Kat Orman Show, BBC Oxford

15/03/16, 10:40am

Prof. Irene Tracey discusses the question "Can we really see someone’s pain?" (from 37m 29s)

Radio: Exchanges at the Frontier, BBC World service

14/02/16, 12.06pm

Series of trailers on BBC World Service publicising the podcast of an earlier programme about the work of Prof. Irene Tracey from Oxford University. She discusses how simple pain can develop into chronic pain, how our emotions can override the effect of painkillers, and what anaesthesia can tell us about consciousness.

Radio: The Placebo Problem, BBC Radio 4

16/02/15, 11.00am

Whilst the placebo effect is now recognised as a useful therapeutic tool, less familiar is its malign counterpart: the nocebo effect, the capacity of an inert or sham treatment to induce adverse physical and mental effects. Geoff Watts explores the science behind this remarkable phenomenon and its worrying implications. Featuring interview and research from Prof. Irene Tracey. 

Radio: Discovery, BBC World Service

14/07/14, 12.44pm

Feature on research by Irene Tracey, professor of anaesthetic science at Oxford University. The study looked at 20 people in a brain scanner to see which areas of the brain are active when they are anaesthetised. Professor Tracey explains how her fMRI scans of people as they slowly undergo anaesthesia revealed how the brain switches off.

Radio: The Science Hour, BBC World Service

13/07/14, 2.38pm

Radio: Discovery, BBC World Service

08/07/2014, 7.44pm

Feature on research by Irene Tracey, professor of anaesthetic science at Oxford University, which put 20 people into a brain scanner to investigate what happened when they were anaesthetised.

All in the Mind, BBC Radio 4


In this special anniversary programme Claudia Hammond looks at developments in neuroscience and how our understanding of the brain has changed.

Scans pinpoint moment anaesthetic puts brain under

24/10/2013, New Scientist online, Linda Geddes

Scientists at Oxford University investigating anaesthetics have found a new signature for unconsciousness. The discovery could lead to more personalised methods for administering anaesthetics and cut the risks associated with being given too high or too low a dose. In the study functional MRI revealed what was happening in different regions of the brain as they lost consciousness. One theory is that an anaesthetic switches off one of the brain's central relay hubs, the thalamus, meaning it no longer speaks to the cerebral cortex. However, Irene Tracey's team found that conversations between the cortex and the thalamus continued, even during deep anaesthesia – but there was no propagation of messages to wider regions of the brain. Importantly, the point at which messages stopped being routed out was the same point at which the slow-wave oscillations reached a plateau. The hope is that this "saturation point" could be used as a measure of when to stop administering drugs, to reduce the risk of side effects such as headaches, dizziness and memory loss.

Personal anaesthetic

25/10/2013, Oxford Mail, p.16 

Radio: David Prever, BBC Radio Oxford

24/10/2013, 16:37, 17:36

Radio: Newshour, BBC World Service

24/10/2013, 13:15

Radio: Malcolm Boyden, BBC Radio Oxford

24/10/2013, 12:11

Radio: Patrick Kielty, BBC Radio 2

24/10/2013, 08:03

Radio: James Cannon, BBC Radio Surrey

24/10/2013, 07:31

Radio: Today, BBC Radio 4

24/10/2013, 06.54

Professor Irene Tracey of Oxford University is interviewed about new research in which scientists have identified the moment that anaesthetised patients become unconscious. Using imaging techniques, researchers examined the brain’s reaction to external stimuli whilst patients were slowly put under anaesthetic over a period of 45 minutes. They found that the point that the brain becomes isolated from the external world is different for each individual, a result which could lead to personalised dosing of anaesthetic prior to surgery.

Radio: James Churchfield, BBC Radio Cornwall

24/10/2013, 06:34

Radio: Phil Gayle and Friends, BBC Radio Oxford

24/10/2013, 06:31, 08:26, 09:02

Study shows pain is all in your head, and you can see it

10/04/2013, NBC News online (USA), Maggie Fox

Article about new research using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to measure pain by imaging the brain’s response to painkillers notes that Irene Tracey of Oxford University is among several groups trying to finesse a technique for correlating brain imaging to sensations of pain.

A golden age of discovery in neuroscience

05/09/12, BBC News online, Tom Feilden

Developments in imaging technology, genetics, brain chemistry and computing are promising fresh insights into the workings of the mind and mental illness. Article looks at several neuroscience research projects, including Nuffield Department of Clinical Excellence's Brain Imaging Centre led by Professor Irene Tracey, who is working with a new 7 Tesla whole-body MRI scanner. Comments by professor of Neuroscience at Oxford University Colin Blakemore are also noted.

Radio: Today programme, BBC Radio 4

03/09/2012, 07.42

The first of three special reports on a golden age of brain research, as dramatic advances across a range of fields raise the prospect of genuine breakthroughs in neurological disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. The piece looks at some of the hardware that has allowed neuroscientists to peek inside the ‘black box’ of the mind. Professor Irene Tracey of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences explains the difference functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brain has made. Oxford’s FMRIB centre has recently taken delivery of a new, even more powerful scanner: ‘They had to take the roof off the building to get the giant 40-tonne cylindrical magnet in,’ explains science correspondent Tom Feilden. Dr Stuart Clare puts Tom in the scanner then shows him an image of his brain. Professor Colin Blakemore of Oxford University discusses where this area of research could lead: ‘The excitement ... is around the combination of knowledge coming from genetics with new ways of manipulating genetic expression in cells, combined with imaging.’

Pain maps could expose partners who exaggerate for sympathy

02/09/2012, Sunday Telegraph online, Richard Gray

Article on the news that researchers are developing a pain map of the brain which could allow the exact location and intensity of a person’s pain to be pinpointed includes comment from Professor Irene Tracey, a neuroscientist at Oxford University who studies pain.

Neuroscience May Transform Face Of War, Royal Society Panel Says

06/02/12, Huffington Post UK (via Reuters), Kate Kelland

Directed energy weapons that use wave beams to cause pain and electrical brain stimulation that boosts a soldier's combat ability could soon be with us according to a new Royal Society report. Irene Tracey, an expert on brain imaging from Oxford University and one of the report's authors, said most of the applications of neural interface technology, such as brain prostheses or implants, have so far been only at the trial stage and mostly in medicine. “You can imagine how this can be used for the military - both for rehabilitation of soldiers and for control of remote devices,” she told a briefing in London. “Some of it is the stuff of dreams at this stage, but the speed at which technologies tend to develop ... is always alarmingly quick.”

The brain is taking over from brawn

08/02/12, Vancouver Sun (Canada) (via Reuters), Kate Kelland

Neuroscience the new face of warfare: Experts

07/02/2012, The Times of India

Neuroscience the new face of warfare: experts

06/02/2012,, Kate Kelland

Advances in neuroscience could make possible directed energy weapons that use wave beams to cause pain and electrical brain stimulation that boosts a soldier’s combat ability, according to a new report. Article includes comment from Irene Tracey, an expert on brain imaging at Oxford University and one of the report’s authors.

Should the age of criminal responsibility be raised? Royal Society claims some brains don't mature until 20

14/12/11, Daily Mail, Unattributed

Article about research into the developmental maturity of the brain  notes that a team at Oxford University led by Professor Irene Tracey believes that brain scans may soon reveal the neural pathways that provide a ‘signature’ of subjective pain, and suggests that such a test would open the door to identifying benefit cheats or fraudulent personal injury claims.

Brain scans could be used to spot benefit cheats within 10 years

14/12/11, Daily Mail, Lucy Buckland

Pain test could expose cheats

14/12/2011, Oxford Mail (in brief), p.7

Professor Irene Tracey, director of the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery of the Brain, is identifying neural pathways that could provide a “signature” of subjective pain in a scan and tell if a person is genuinely feeling pain or just pretending. Article notes that ‘benefit cheats who cost the country £1.6bn a year’ could be exposed by these pain testing brain scans being developed at Oxford University.

Soon, brain scans to catch benefit cheats

13/12/2011, Bio scholar

Radio: James Cannon, BBC Oxford

13/12/2011, 4.45pm

Scans could catch benefits cheats

13/12/2011, The Press Association

Article on a Royal Society report into how the latest neuroscience understanding could influence the law notes that the working group chairman Professor Nicholas Mackintosh from Cambridge University said scientists were already close to being able to tell if a person is genuinely feeling pain or just pretending. He notes that a team at Oxford University led by Professor Irene Tracey believes that brain scans may soon reveal the neural pathways that provide a ‘signature’ of subjective pain, and suggests that such a test would open the door to identifying benefit cheats or fraudulent personal injury claims.

Why your expectations can be a real pain

13/11/2011, The Observer -Review-, p., p.21, Penny Sarchet

Penny Sarchet, a graduate student at Oxford University’s Department of Plant Sciences, writes about the ‘nocebo effect’ where warnings of fictional side-effects can make patients feel ill. The article highlights research by Oxford's Professor Irene Tracey which showed that when volunteers feel nocebo pain, corresponding brain activity is detectable in an MRI scanner. This shows that, at the neurological level at least, volunteers really are responding to actual, non-imaginary, pain.

Most powerful scanner in UK at JR

04/08/11, Oxford Times, p.4

The UK’s most powerful scanner has been installed at the Functional MRI for the Brain Centre (FMRIB) at the John Radcliffe Hospital, part of Oxford University’s Medical Sciences Division. Professor Irene Tracey, Director of the FMRIB Centre, said the scanner would allow quicker diagnosis of illnesses and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and epilepsy.

The brain: a tiny key to a terrible lock 

16/06/2011, Discover Magazine, Carl Zimmer

Article on how scientists are tracing the causes of chronic pain highlights the work of Professor Irene Tracey and her team at Oxford University. The team’s research shows that people’s expectations of pain alter how they experience it, making some sensations more painful than others even when the stimulus itself is the same.

Radio: All in the Mind, BBC Radio 4

17/05/11, 4.45pm [15:00 on the iPlayer clock]

Professor Irene Tracey of Oxford University discusses the placebo effect.

Expectations affect benefits of pain drug

03/04/11, Chicago Tribune, p. 91, Kate Kelland

People who don't believe their pain medicine will work can actually reduce or even cancel out the effectiveness of the drug, and images of their brains show how they are doing it, scientists report. Researchers from Oxford University in Britain and Germany used brain scans to map how a person's feelings and past experiences can influence the effectiveness of medicines, and found that a powerful pain-killing drug with a true biological effect can appear not to be working if a patient has been primed to expect it to fail. By contrast, positive expectations about the treatment doubled the natural physiological or biochemical effect of an opioid drug among 22 healthy volunteers. “The brain imaging is telling us that patients really are switching on and off parts of their brains through the mechanisms of expectation — positive and negative," said Irene Tracey of Oxford University, who led the research.

Research shows pessimism can impede pain relief

18/03/2011, South Florida Times, Lauran Neergaard

Article on how we feel pain highlights recent research by Professor Irene Tracey at Oxford University into how people experience the pain that they expect.

Radio: Health Check, BBC World Service

22/02/11, 3.33pm [00.36 on iPlayer clock]

Professor Irene Tracey of Oxford University has found that the placebo effect has a powerful effect in the brain. She said: ‘We were really blown away by just how dramatic an influence positive and negative expectations had on the actual working of the true drug.’

Expectations can cancel out benefit of pain drugs

19/02/11, Straits Times

Painkiller works better when patient expects it will

17/02/2011, Voice of America online

Patients who don't think their medicine will help can actually limit the effectiveness of the drug. That's according to a new study led by Professor Irene Tracey of the University of Oxford, which sheds some interesting new light on the placebo effect and may guide doctors to help patients get better results from the same medicine.

The brain can render painkillers ineffective

17/02/2011‎, Toronto Sun

Placebo Effect May Work in Reverse

17/02/2011, BusinessWeek online, Steven Reinberg 

Want more pain relief? Think positive

17/02/2011‎, New Scientist online, Jessica Hamzelou

The drugs won't work if you don't believe in them

17/02/2011‎, Irish Independent, Stephen Adams 

Expectations can cancel out benefit of pain drugs

17/02/2011‎, Vancouver Sun, Kate Kelland

Optimism boosts drug effectiveness

17/02/2011, Times of India, Unattributed

Radio: Jo Thoenes, BBC Radio Oxford

17/02/2011, 13:00pm

Radio: Joel Hammer, BBC Radio Oxford

17/02/2011, 6:02am

Power of the mind can conquer pain

17/02/11, The Telegraph, p. 8, Stephen Adams

Pain really is all in the mind, according to scientists who have discovered that positive thoughts can double a painkiller's effect while negative thoughts can cancel them out. Researchers from Oxford, Cambridge and two German universities made their conclusions after a novel experiment examining the role of conscious thought in pain perception. Volunteers were asked to describe their pain levels when experiencing a pain device and being attached to a pain-reducing intravenous line, while at the same time brain activity was monitored using MRI scans. These showed their brains' pain networks were more active when they thought the drug was not being administered, while 'positive' thoughts that the painkiller was flowing inhibited such activity. Professor Irene Tracey from Oxford University led the research. She said: "People with chronic pain will often have seen many doctors and tried many drugs that haven't worked. They come to see the clinician not expecting to receive anything that will work for them."

Placebos really do make you feel better

17/02/11, Daily Mail, p. 12, Fiona Macrae

Placebo Effect May Work in Reverse 

17/02/2011‎, U.S. News & World Report, Steven Reinberg

Positive Thinking May Make Drugs Work Better 

17/02/2011‎, WebMD, Bill Hendrick

Negative experiences can stop painkillers working

16/02/11, BBC News, James Gallagher

A patient's belief that a drug will not work can become a self fulfilling prophecy, according to researchers. They showed the benefits of painkillers could be boosted or completely wiped out by manipulating expectations. The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, also identifies the regions of the brain which are affected. Heat was applied to the legs of 22 patients, who were asked to report the level of pain on a scale of one to 100. They were also attached to an intravenous drip so drugs could be administered secretly. The initial average pain rating was 66. Patients were then given a potent painkiller, remifentanil, without their knowledge and the pain score went down to 55. They were then told they were being given a painkiller and the score went down to 39. Then, without changing the dose, the patients were then told the painkiller had been withdrawn and to expect pain, and the score went up to 64. Professor Irene Tracey, from Oxford University, told the BBC: "It's phenomenal, it's really cool. It's one of the best analgesics we have and the brain's influence can either vastly increase its effect, or completely remove it." Brain scans during the experiment also showed which regions of the brain were affected.

Expectations can cancel out benefit of pain drugs

16/02/11, Reuters UK, Kate Kelland

TV: Horizon: the secret world of pain

31/01/2011, BBC Two, 9pm  [31:22 on the iPlayer clock]

In a programme about pain, Professor Irene Tracey is interviewed about her research into the effect of emotion on how people feel pain.

Pain be gone

22/01/2011, New Scientist, p.34, Rachel Courtland

Feature article on the science of pain highlights the work of Professor Irene Tracey of Oxford University who is trying to develop an objective measure of pain based on people’s brain activity detected on an MRI scanner. Professor Tracey hopes such research will help in the understanding of chronic pain. She comments: ‘When you get conversion from the acute warning pain to the pain that goes on for years, there are new mechanisms that go wrong inside the brain - mechanisms that sustain and amplify it.’.

Drug makers give pain a closer look

23/03/10, International Herald Tribune, p. 18, Kate Kelland

Pain could become a disease in its own right, following the recognition of its significant cost to society and that the responses of the brain are central to pain. A study published last year by Irene Tracey of the Pain Imaging Neuroscience Group at Oxford University found that severe pain was linked to changes in the brain. She said, 'Pain doesn't exist until the brain gets hold of it.'

Is pain all in the mind?

The Times (Body and Soul), p8, John Naish

As part of a feature on new research into chronic pain, the author visits Professor Irene Tracey at the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain. Professor Tracey assesses his pain and anxiety thresholds and discusses how her research group uses advanced brain scanning techniques to look at our responses to pain.