A group of researchers were able to help a woman naturally immune to pain experience the sensation for the first time. The woman, who is now 39 years old, was given naloxone, a drug that is usually prescribed to drug addicts in case of an overdose.
Next, she was mildly burned with a laser to experience pain. The experiment was a complete success, and the patient, who would rather remain anonymous, expressed her hope that the drug could help other patients born with the same condition have a normal life.
The woman’s condition is extremely rare and it is caused by a genetic mutation. People who aren’t able to experience physical pain suffer many injuries and trauma during their early years because their brain doesn’t warn them that a certain situation is harmful or life threatening to them.
For instance, people that have the rare condition, scientifically dubbed Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis (CIPA), may spill a boiled liquid on their hand, and instead of quickly moving their hand away, they might continue to touch the liquid because they do not feel their body’s natural reaction to it. As a result, the incident might lead to a more severe tissue damage and infection than it would have if those people felt pain.
Moreover, because they fail to experience pain when they are injured, people with the genetic disorder may be less prone to seeking medical attention than their healthy peers, which in fact can lead to further complications.
Researchers explained that people affected by the disorder are born without ion channels or Nav1.7 channels, which help neurons communicate. If neurons cannot transmit pain to the brain, the entire body becomes ‘immune’ to pain.
But the rare genetic disorder might have some usefulness. Scientists drew inspiration from it to conduct various experiments involving Nav1.7 channels in search for a method to alleviate chronic pain without the drawbacks of opioid pain medications.
The idea behind the experiments was that blocking ion channels may also block pain in patients that weren’t born with the rare condition.
John Wood, a researcher with the University College London and lead investigator in the research that helped the 39-year-old woman feel pain, recalled that big pharmas ‘went bananas’ when they learned about the new opportunity, and started investing in research.
But despite these companies’ best efforts, none of the experiments managed to totally block pain like in CIPA patients, Wood said.
Image Source: Pixabay
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