December 18, 2006
For those who suffer from chronic pain there is hope. A story from last week's NYTimes:
"Geneticists following up the case of a 10-year old Pakistani boy who could walk on coals without discomfort have discovered a gene that is central to the perception of pain. A mutation in the gene knocks out all perception of injury, raising hopes of developing novel drugs that would abolish pain by blocking the gene’s function. The boy lived in Lahore, Pakistan, and was well known to the city’s medical authorities because he would come to the clinic asking to be patched up after his street theater. In these exhibitions, he would pass knives through his arms and walk on burning coals without feeling pain...
After six years of work, Dr. Woods found that the affected members of all three families had a defect in a gene known as sodium channel N9A, or SCN9A...The SCN9A gene is active both in nerves that mediate pain and in those of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls vital bodily functions like heart rate. But for reasons that are not yet understood, the affected members of the Pakistani families had no symptoms of a disordered sympathetic nervous system, such as irregular heart rate, and seemed entirely normal apart from the occasional self-inflicted damage caused by their inability to feel pain. Several had inadvertently bitten off the tips of their tongue in infancy."
Nearly 300 million people worldwide suffer from chronic pain and this research should go a long way in helping uncover new ways to alleviate their daily torment. (Note: image of brain pain center is not related to this article but is related to permanently relieving pain.)
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