British Scientists Discover Powerful New Pain Relief Drug

Pain can be mental or physical, but either way, being in pain is a truly miserable experience. Minor pain is tolerable. If you stub your toe or the cat scratches your arm the unpleasant sensation you experience doesn’t last for long. More acute pain, such as the pain experienced by cancer patients or the intense nerve pain resulting from a trapped sciatic nerve can be excruciating and difficult to deal with in the long term.

Interestingly, a handful of people in the world are unable to experience any pain whatsoever. Due to a genetic abnormality, this small group of individuals lack ion channels, which in normal people are used to transport sodium across sensory nerves. These channels, known as Nav1.7 channels, allow nerve cells to communicate pain to the brain, and without them the individual can’t feel any type of pain.

The Downside of Not Feeling Any Pain

This might seem like a great disorder to have: after all, who wouldn’t want to be free of the discomfort of toothache or not have to worry about suffering from migraines? However, it isn’t as much fun as it sounds, because the pain response is actually pretty useful for it warns us when we are in danger and prevents us from injuring ourselves. Children with the disorder are much more likely to end up with serious injuries from falls and burns, and babies will chew on toes and fingers until they bleed.

The Holy Grail of Pain Relief

When researchers first discovered Nav1.7 channels, big pharmaceutical companies poured money into drug development projects in the hope of finding the Holy Grail of pain relief: a drug that would block the pain response in people who were not afflicted with the Nav1.7 disorder. Unfortunately, although researchers had limited success and some fairly effective analgesics were discovered, none were able to completely bring about total pain loss.

In an effort to better understand the Nav1.7 condition, researchers from University College London ran tests on genetically modified mice bred to have no Nav1.7 channels. What they discovered was very interesting. The mice didn’t react to extreme cold or hot, but when exposed to conditions that would ordinarily cause pain, their bodies produced massive amounts of opioid peptides, a naturally occurring painkiller – far more than normal mice. From this, the researchers extrapolated that people without Nav1.7 would also produce similarly high levels of pain relieving peptides.

To test this hypothesis, the research team gave the genetically modified mice Naxalone, a drug that is commonly used to reverse morphine and heroin overdoses. They discovered that mice given Naxalone were able to feel pain again, so the same trial was carried out on a human subject, with the same results.

A female patient with no Nav1.7 who had never previously experienced pain, was now able to feel pain from a hot laser. For you and I this would not be much fun, but for her it was a revelation and, allegedly, she even enjoyed the experiment.

A Major Breakthrough in Pain Relief

In theory, this remarkable research study in pain relief represents a major breakthrough in the search for stronger analgesics, but as the team from University College London points out, taking opioids and Nav1.7 blockers in the long term might not be good for patients. So what are the alternatives?

Treatment Plans for Chronic Pain

Pain is debilitating and in the long term, it can significantly impact on a person’s quality of life. There are many treatments for chronic pain and nobody needs to suffer unnecessarily, so it is important to try different pain management treatments until you find the one that works for you. For example, pain relief medication might be used for sciatica treatment, but if this proves to be unsuccessful, there are other options.

Physical therapy treatment such as ultrasound and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) works well for some people. There are also surgical options, i.e. nerve blocks, intrathecal pump implants, and spinal cord stimulation procedures. Patients may also respond well to different forms of alternative pain relief therapies: acupuncture is often used to treat pain caused by osteoarthritis and back problems.

Whatever type of treatment you elect to try, it is important to remember that nobody needs to live with chronic pain. Pain management clinics are there to help you learn to live life to the max again, without being continually dragged down by the pain of long-term health conditions or old injuries. So if pain is making you miserable, irritable, frustrated and depressed, ask for the help you deserve.

Written by Guest Submitter

Our authors want to hear from you! Click to leave a comment

Related Posts

Subscribe to the SJS Weekly Newsletter

One Response

  1. Walt Stawicki December 21, 2015

Leave a Reply