Scientists from University College London (UCL) have published a report in the journal Nature Communications detailing their discovery of the recipe for a lifetime of painlessness. They conducted a research on lab mice which bore the mutation that makes some people impervious to pain, and ultimately found the recipe to cut out pain in people.
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Scientists before this time had managed to produce medical drugs that patients could use to reduce or cut out pain, but these had not been so effective. The new discovery might be of much help in this regard.
Researchers found that signals are transmitted along nerve cell membranes that allow electrical impulses to be passed to the nervous system. And researchers in 2006 discovered that channel Nav1.7 is crucial in helping people to experience pain, but people without Nav1.7 do not experience any sort of pains. The only way for them to experience pain is to use special drugs, and then these drugs have not been as effective as they ought to.
Incidentally, the researchers found that people with malfunctioning Nav1.7 and lab mice lacking it produce higher levels of natural opioid peptides – meaning the high opioid level has something to do with their ability to feel pains.
Researchers worked along this way and developed naloxone, an opioid blocker, and gave it to mice that do not have the Nav1.7; and they gradually became able to experience pain. It was given to another woman of 39 years suffering from a mutation that made her not to experience pain, and she started to experience pain for the first time after taking naloxone.
“After a decade of rather disappointing drug trials, we now have confirmation that Nav1.7 really is a key element in human pain,” noted senior author Professor John Wood of UCL Medicine.
“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,” he added.
It is true that medical scientists have used sodium channel blocker drugs to anaesthetize patients during surgery, but these drugs are not too good for long-term use because they cause numbness among other side effects when used over a period of time. But when administered to people with the inability to experience pain, the side effect of the drug is that they develop the inability to smell things.
One of the most effective opioid painkillers is morphine, but it causes tolerance and dependence when used over a long period of time; and it becomes less effective at blocking pain when the body becomes used to it.
Professor Wood explained that the actual dose of opioid required to manage pain is very small when used together with Nav1.7 blockers. He added that people who do not feel pains or have non-functional Nav1.7 produce minimal amount of opioid and do not develop tolerance or have any side-effects when given naloxone. Wood thinks this approach will be trialed in humans in early 2017 followed by combination of drugs that cut out pains in patients worldwide.
Transgenic mice or mice that carried genetic material modified from another organism were used for the experiment – meaning that mice that bore the mutation that made some people not to feel pains were used for the research.
“Our results reaffirm the clinical relevance of transgenic mouse models for human diseases,” said Professor Wood.
The senior author of the study explained that investigating the transgenic mice enabled researchers to analyze what went on inside the nervous system of the mice that made painlessness possible, and the findings were translated to human use. Wood said the research to understand painlessness in humans would not have been possible without the transgenic mice, and the result is that relevant drugs that address chronic pains in people can now be developed to treat patients.
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