Seminar: Rebeccah Slater, ‘Noci-skepticism and neuroscience. Should we treat pain in newborn infants?’

Past Event

24 November 2010, 4:00pm - 5:30pm

Faculty of Philosophy
Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford, OX2 6GG

Wednesday, 24 November


Speaker: Rebeccah Slater (Post-doctoral research fellow Oxford Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain, University of Oxford)

Title:‘Noci-skepticism and neuroscience. Should we treat pain in newborn infants?’

Respondent: Dr Dominic Wilkinson

Abstract: Newborn infants are unable to provide direct reports of painful experience. Nor do they have conscious memories of the painful events they experience in the newborn period. These factors have led to skepticism amongst scientists and medical professionals about whether newborn infants experience pain in the same way as older individuals, and about whether pain behaviour in newborns should be treated (Noci-skepticism).

In this Seminar we will discuss three phases of Noci-skepticism in newborn care. Evidence from neuroscience has in the past provided a challenge to skeptics, and led to increased use of analgesics for pain in newborns. However, recent neuroscientific evidence challenges whether oral sucrose – a commonly used agent for procedural pain in newborn infants – is an effective analgesic. Although sucrose appears to reduce behavioural manifestations of pain in infants following a painful procedure, it has no effect on an electrical brain marker of pain perception. Which evidence should be taken as indicative of pain experience in infants? Why do we provide analgesia for infants? How should neuroscientific evidence of this sort inform decisions about the use of pharmacological analgesics in newborn infants? We argue that there are two distinct, and (in principle) separable reasons for providing analgesics. Noci-skepticism in newborn intensive care is partly justified.

Bio: Rebeccah Slater completed a degree in Physics at Imperial College in 2001 and was then awarded a Medical Research Council scholarship to do a Masters in Neuroscience at University College London. Rebeccah was subsequently awarded a place on the prestigious Wellcome Trust London Pain Consortium PhD programme and it was at this time that she started to work on human brain development.

During her early research work as a PhD student in the laboratory of Professor Maria Fitzgerald, Rebeccah published the first observations that the newborn infant brain is functionally activated by noxious stimulation.

Rebeccah has held postdoctoral research positions at both University College London and the University of Oxford and she is now funded by the Wellcome Trust to continue her work on the development of human pain. She has published numerous research articles about infant pain processing in journals such as The Lancet and PLoS Medicine and has been passionately involved in the communication of science to the public.