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Illustration of alpha, theta and delta brain wave recordings
The study measured alpha waves, which oscillate between 8 and 14 Hz

Research shows that a brainwave biomarker licensed by digital therapeutic spinout Empower Therapeutics can reliably and accurately identify patients with high sensitivity to pain.

The study, which was carried out in Birmingham, U.K. by an international collaboration of researchers, showed that the biomarker can predict which patients a pain score of 7/10 or higher following chest surgery (thoracotomy).

Before surgery, the team measured the patients’ alpha waves. Over 72 hours following surgery, participants were asked to score their pain on a scale from 1-10. The researchers were able to demonstrate a clear link between the patient’s alpha waves and their responses to pain. They found that people whose alpha waves oscillated below 9 Hz were much more vulnerable to severe pain post-surgery.

The brainwave biomarker is being leveraged by University of Birmingham spinout Empower Therapeutics to both identify pain sensitive individuals and change their perception of pain. Building upon the reported diagnostic capabilities, Empower Therapeutics aims to create digital therapies that measure and modify the biomarker to reduce pain sensitivity and relieve chronic pain.

Formed in 2021, Empower Therapeutics is led by CEO Steven Rothenberg, M.D., a serial entrepreneur and physician, and CSO Andrew Furman, Ph.D, a pain neuroscientist who contributed to the foundational biomarker research at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and co-authored the present study. The study was led by Dr Ali Mazaheri from the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Human Brain Health with contributions from co-author Dr David Seminowicz from Western University (Canada), both of whom serve as scientific advisors to the company.

Since its formation, Empower Therapeutics has launched two pilot studies and expanded the founding team to include COO Blakely O’Connor, PhD. Dr. O’Connor is a Harvard-trained bioengineer with prior experience in digital healthcare who will lead product development and research operations. 

I am excited about the possibilities and potential of this cutting-edge research to translate into tools and therapies that enable people to alleviate pain with fewer drugs and invasive interventions. It is encouraging to see our therapeutic target validated as a meaningful measure of pain sensitivity for patients in a clinical setting.

Blakely O’Connor, Co-Founder and COO, Empower Therapeutics

Empower Therapeutics has also secured seed investment from First Avenue Ventures Life Sciences Fund I and is seeking additional strategic investors to complete the round.

Saksham Narang, Managing Partner at First Avenues Ventures shared, “This study and corresponding data continue to build upon impressive research supporting Empower Therapeutic’s core technology. The results add to the growing body of evidence that the brainwave biomarker is a viable candidate to disrupt the pain management market. We believe Empower Therapeutics is uniquely positioned to address the evolving digital therapeutics landscape and are excited to be leading a seed round to continue the commercialization process.”

For media enquiries please contact Ruth Ashton, University of Birmingham Enterprise, email: r.c.ashton@bham.ac.uk.

For commercial information contact Steven Rothenberg, Empower Therapeutics, e-mail: info@empowertherapeutics.com.

About Empower Therapeutics

Empower Therapeutics Inc. is a US-based University of Maryland and University of Birmingham spin out company commercialising a simple, reliable EEG-based biomarker for pain sensitivity. Brainwave analysis services for clinical trial enrolment selection and endpoints are available for research purposes. Products are not currently available for commercial use and are not indented to diagnose or treat any specific medical condition.

About the University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries. University of Birmingham Enterprise helps researchers turn their ideas into new services, products and enterprises that meet real-world needs. View our portfolio of technologies available for licensing

About the study

Millard et al (2022). ‘Predicting Post-operative Pain in Lung Cancer Patients using Pre-operative Peak Alpha Frequency’ is published in the British Journal Of Anaesthesia.