Scientists have genetically modified mice so that they do not feel any type of pain. This has been done in order to get a better understanding of how pain is processed in the brain and learn how to better treat people who suffer from chronic pain.
A very small amount of people are born with a genetic disorder known as congenital insensitivity to pain. This disorder has been isolated to sodium channel Nav 1.7. Scientists have tried to create medication that mimics CIP, with virtually no success. Now, scientists have been able to genetically modify mice to have CIP. By genetically modifying mice, scientists can get a better understanding of how to manipulate Nav 1.7 in order to create medications to treat people who are being treated with narcotic painkillers for chronic pain.
It was discovered that the mice without Nav 1.7 produced a higher amount of opioid peptides compared to mice with Nav 1.7. In the study published in Nature Communications, the genetically modified mice were given Naloxone, a medication designed to block opiate receptors, and determined that the mice began to feel pain. Scientists decided to try the same treatment on a woman who has CIP. The 39-year-old woman felt pain for the first time ever. Professor John Wood is the senior author on the research paper in Nature Communications. He commented on the incredible medical breakthrough.
“After a decade of rather disappointing drug trials, we now have confirmation that Nav1.7 really is a key element in human pain. The secret ingredient turned out to be good old-fashioned opioid peptides, and we have now filed a patent for combining low dose opioids with Nav1.7 blockers. This should replicate the painlessness experienced by people with rare mutations, and we have already successfully tested this approach in unmodified mice.”
Since Nav 1.7 is a sodium channel, broad spectrum sodium channel blockers had been used as a local anesthetic to block pain. The problem with them is that they cause complete numbness in the area and the side effects over time outweigh the benefit of the painlessness. The unlucky people born without Nav 1.7 still have the ability to feel a touch on their bodies. Only the pain receptors are blocked.
— STAT (@statnews) November 30, 2015
The most common form of treatment for pain management is the use of narcotic painkillers such as morphine. Morphine is very effective at treating and managing chronic pain, but is very addictive and has a risk for overdose leading to death. The brain rewires itself to become used to the morphine and over time will require more of the drug in order to control pain. Eventually, the drug will no longer work. John Wood commented further.
“Used in combination with Nav1.7 blockers, the dose of opioid needed to prevent pain is very low. People with non-functioning Nav1.7 produce low levels of opioids throughout their lives without developing tolerance or experiencing unpleasant side-effects. We hope to see our approach tested in human trials by 2017 and we can then start looking into drug combinations to help the millions of chronic pain patients around the world.”
It is estimated that 1.5 billion people worldwide have chronic pain. Chronic pain makes it very difficult for sufferers to function in their everyday lives. The disease leads to lost wages, mental health issues, family problems, and many other physiological disorders. By discovering the secret to painlessness, sufferers of chronic pain now have legitimate hope that they will be able to get off their narcotic pain medication and have their pain better regulated so that they can begin to live their lives again.
What are your thoughts on this medical breakthrough? Do you know someone with chronic pain who wants to get off their pain medication?
[Image Via AP Photo/M. Spencer Green]