Have you ever wondered how it would be to not feeling pain? Never, not at all? It might sound incredible but some people actually know how that is, including a 29-year old woman to whom doctors have finally been able to give the sense of pain.
Being able to give the sense of pain to somebody who has never felt it is revolutionary. It could help finding new drugs to cure highly painful conditions, like arthritis.
The woman has never felt pain in her life, which has put her in some very dangerous situations. A team of scientists used a drug that is normally used for treating opioid overdose to make her feel pain.
A team of scientists from London discovered that responsible for the lack of pain is a genetic mutation in Nav1.7, an ion channel that transports sodium through the sensory nerves to cause the feeling of pain.
The team of researchers from University College London has studied the Nav1.7 channels in mice. They discovered that those who lack Nav1.7 had a higher activity in the genes responsible of opioid peptides, which is also known as body’s natural painkiller.
Initially scientists were trying to make a drug that would block the Nav1.7 channel to stop severe pain but everything they tried was too weak.
However, after the mice experiment, they learned that opioid peptides are also crucial in stopping the pain. Now, they are trying to make a drug combining blockers of Nav1.7 and low dose opioids. This drug would replicate the mutations in mice and people who cannot feel pain.
During the mice experiment the scientists administered an opioid blocker, naloxone, to mice born without Nav.17. As a result, the mice have been able to feel pain. Confident that it would also work in humans, they gave the same drug to a woman also born with the gene mutation. She was able to feel pain for the first time in her life.
Broad-spectrum Nav1.7 blockers have been used as anesthetics but they can cause serious complications when used for a long time. Also, opioid painkillers like morphine can lead to dependence and tolerance.
Though, when mixed with Nav1.7 blockers, the opioid dose can be significantly lower and it would still have an amazing effect for killing the pain without the side effects and complications given by the drugs when taken separately.
The British team of scientists will start the human trials by 2017. If successful this could save millions of people with chronic pain all over the world.
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