UD lands state funding for opioid addiction program


The University of Dayton Research Institute has landed state funding for an effort to teach people with opioid addictions how to reduce their cravings by regaining control of their brains.

UDRI software engineer Kelly Cashion, who wrote the winning proposal and will lead the program, will develop and use a system of neurofeedback therapy designed to help people “recover control of their minds and bodies and accelerate the path to recovery,” Cashion said in a statement from UDRI.

Nilesh Powar, Cashion’s supervisor and a senior research engineer with UDRI, said the university is planning to use the money to boost initial studies — studies which should happen at a Dayton-area hospital yet to be identified, Power said in an interview.

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Power said he intends to speak with local physicians about finding suitable subjects and taking the next steps.

While the concept itself is not entirely new — neurotherapy has been used to treat nicotine addiction and depression — the application here is somewhat novel. “We cannot just go and take subjects out,” Powar said. “It has to go through a certain protocol.”

Essentially, the program will use electrodes placed on a patient to measure brain activity, with the hope of guiding the patient to a better understanding of how the brain responds to positive stimuli that can help reduce cravings.

Opioid use becomes abuse — and ultimately addiction — by shutting down the brain’s ability to naturally release dopamine and endorphins, so that the absence of opioids creates feelings of intense anxiety and other severe symptoms of withdrawal.

“Using neurofeedback, we’ll work with our volunteers to help them learn to regulate activity in the part of their brain associated with cravings and rewire some of those pathways, allowing them to reduce their cravings and experience a more ‘normal’ state even without opioids,” Cashion said.

The idea is to have a subject perform an activity and see what that activity looks like graphically on a computer monitor. “That will re-enforce your neural activity,” Powar said. “You think, ‘Oh, if I do this, my pain will get better.’”

“After a series of training sessions, volunteers will have learned the tasks they will need to perform to reduce cravings, even without use of the technology,” UDRI said.

First, a baseline of a patient’s typical brain activity needs to be established. “There is a lot of ground work to be done,” he said.

Cashion’s was one of five winning proposals selected for funding by the Ohio Third Frontier. The school will receive $10,000.

Dubbed the “Ohio Opioid Technology Challenge,” the effort was developed to help create solutions to the nation’s growing opioid addiction crisis. In 2016, Ohio was second only to West Virginia for the number of overdose deaths related to opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The new treatment is not meant to replace current treatment therapies and counseling, but to supplement it. “This won’t replace existing (treatments) at all,” Powar said.

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