The mission of the Pain STAR Lab is to foster collaboration between clinicians and researchers aimed at developing, testing and validating novel technologies and methods to diagnose and treat chronic pain. 

The research vision encompasses hypothesis-driven and data-driven scientific discovery leading to translational research. Our research program is guided by the scientific premise that sensory and emotional states are governed by neural circuits. Our main goal is to elucidate and map these circuits with unprecedented cellular specificity and temporal resolution, using multidisciplinary research tools such as optogenetics, self-report behavioral paradigms, and high-density (>200 units) neural recordings in vivo across the spine-brain continuum. Basic science discoveries are then translated to biomedical applications in collaboration with healthcare partners using non-invasive brain imaging and machine learning.

In other words …

Chronic pain is one of the most widespread, costly and disabling health conditions in the United States. Musculoskeletal pain is the most common type of chronic pain, and chronic low back pain is highly prevalent in this category, with healthcare costs estimated at $100 billion annually. Our research is based on emerging scientific findings showing that pain is mediated by brain activity. Therefore, our main goal is to define the brain networks mediating pain. Our strategy is to reduce scientific theory to clinical practice using non-invasive brain imaging and big data analytics, thus enabling accurate classification and assessment of patients with pain, and providing healthcare professionals the opportunity for earlier interventions to prevent long-term pain, disability and opioid use.

Publications (Select)

  1. Chang, Y.W., Tan A., Saab C.Y., Waxman S.G. Unilateral focal burn injury is followed by long-lasting bilateral allodynia and neuronal hyperexcitability in spinal cord dorsal horn. J Pain 11:119-30, 2010 (COVER).
  2. LeBlanc B.W., Iwata M., Mallon A.P., Rupasinghe C.N., Goebel D.J., Marshall J., Spaller M.R., Saab C.Y. A Cyclic Peptide Targeted against PSD-95 blocks central sensitization and attenuates thermal hyperalgesia. Neurosci167:490-500, 2010.
  3. LeBlanc B.W., Zerah M.L., Kadasi L.M., Noori, C., Saab C.Y. Minocycline injection in the ventral posterolateral thalamus reverses microglial reactivity and thermal hyperalgesia secondary to sciatic neuropathy. Neurosci Lett 498:138-42, 2011.
  4. Iwata M., LeBlanc B.W., Kadasi L.M., Zerah M.L., Cosgrove R.G. and Saab C.Y. High-frequency stimulation in the ventral posterolateral thalamus reverses electrophysiological changes and hyperalgesia in a rat model of neuropathic pain. Pain 152:2505-13, 2011.
  5. Shields S.D., Cheng X., Gasser A., Saab C.Y., Iwata M., Tyrell L., Eastman E., Zwinger P.J., Black J.A., Dib-Hajj S.D. and Waxman S.G. A channelopathy contributes to cerebellar dysfunction in a model of multiple sclerosis. Annals Neurol 71:186-94, 2012.
  6. Saab C.Y. Visualizing the complex dynamics of chronic pain. J Neuroimm Pharm (special issue) 8:510-7, 2013.
  7. Saab C.Y. Pain-related changes in the brain: diagnostic and therapeutic potentials. TINS 35:629-37, 2012.
  8. Leblanc B.W., Lii T.R., Silverman A.E., Alleyne R.T., Saab C.Y. Cortical Theta is Increased while Thalamocortical Coherence is Decreased in Rat Models of Acute and Chronic Pain. Pain, 155:773-82, 2014 (COVER).
  9. Leblanc B.W., Lii T., Huang J.J., Chao Y.C., Bowary P., Cross B., Lee M., Vera-Portocarrero L., Saab C.Y. T-type Calcium Channel Blocker Z944 Restores Cortical Synchrony and Thalamocortical Connectivity in a Rat Model of Neuropathic Pain. Pain, 157:255-63, 2016.
  10. 10.  LeBlanc B.W., Bowary P.M., Chao Y.C., Lii T.R., Saab C.Y. Electroencephalogram signatures of pain and analgesia in rats. Pain 157:2330-40, 2016.
  11. Levitt J., Choo H.J., Smith K.A., LeBlanc B.W., Saab C.Y. Electroencephalographic Frontal Synchrony and Caudal Asynchrony during Painful Hand Immersion in Cold Water. Brain Res Bull 30:75-80, 2016.
  12. Saab C.Y., Barrett L.F. Thalamic bursts and the epic pain model. Front Comp Neurosci 10:147, 2017.
  13. Flakoll B., Ali A.B., Saab C.Y. Twitching in veterinary procedures: How does this technique subdue horses? J Vet Beh [in press]Early Career Scientist Award Prize.
  14. 14.  LeBlanc B.W., Cross B., Smith K.A., Roach C., Xia J., Chao Y.C., Levitt J., Koyama S., Moore C., Saab C.Y. Thalamic bursts down-regulate cortical theta  and nociceptive behavior. Sci Rep7:2482, 2017.
  15. Saab C.Y.,Abdul Baki S.Spatiotemporal Coding in the Brain: Promise of Objective Orofacial Pain Diagnosis. J Leb Dent Assoc52(1):42, 2017 (ISSN 1810-9632).
  16. Levitt J, Nitenson A, Koyama S, Heijmans L, Curry J, Ross JT, Kamerling S, Saab CY. Automated Detection of Electroencephalography Artifacts in Human, Rodent and Canine Subjects using Machine Learning. J Neurosci Methods S0165-0270(18)30193-6, 2018.
  17. Koyama S, Xia J, Leblanc BW, Gu JW, Saab CY. Sub-paresthesia spinal cord stimulation reverses thermal hyperalgesia and modulates low frequency EEG in a rat model of neuropathic pain. Sci Rep 8;8(1):7181, 2018.
  18. Levitt J, Saab CY. What does a pain ‘biomarker’ mean and can a machine be taught to measure pain? Neurosci Let29;702:40-43, 2019.


Cleveland FES Center

Director, Pain Science Technology and Research (STAR) Lab
Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute


Program Contact
Carl Saab

Contact Number
(216) 445-3212

Contact Email