IMAGINE feeling pain and not being upset by it, or running a marathon and not feeling tired.
It sounds like science fiction, but a group of researchers at the University of Canberra are at the cutting edge of research into how people can be made to feel differently about what happens to their bodies.
Transcranial direct-current stimulation, which is being trialled at several universities worldwide, may change the way doctors treat chronic pain and could be used by elite athletes to boost their performance.
Assistant professor Stuart Cathcart and his team of four honours students are running a series of trials this year using the technology, which delivers tiny electric currents through electrodes positioned on participants' heads to increase or decrease brain activity in specific areas.
In one of the trials, researchers will apply electric currents to reduce activity in the part of the brain that produces an emotional response to pain, then have recipients dip their hand in icy water.
''We think there are some parts of the brain that are involved in the processing of the sensory information of pain, where the pain is felt and how intense it is, and other parts of the brain process the emotional component, things like how unpleasant this experience is,'' Dr Cathcart said. ''We're hoping that people will be able to locate the pain the same, and it will still feel the same intensity, or maybe a little less, but we're thinking it won't be as unpleasant a sensation as it would have been if we didn't do that.''
Dr Cathcart said the technology could be used to treat chronic pain either with medication, or in situations where patients could not take medication.
The group's trials will also investigate whether increasing activity in the motor cortex of the brain before exercise could boost drive to the leg muscles, or if electrodes could be used to reduce feelings of fatigue during physical activity.
Dr Cathcart said the technology did not cause pain and had no lasting effects. People aged 18 to 65 who would like to be involved in the trials can contact him at stuart. email@example.com