Could Science End Physical Pain?

Child falling off his bicycleA 39-year-old woman with a congenital condition that disables the ability to feel pain has experienced pain for the first time, thanks to a new animal study published in Nature Communications. Though pain is generally unpleasant, its role in human health and behavior is indispensable. From drawing attention to possible medical issues to preventing dangerous actions, such as leaving a hand on a hot stove, pain can be necessary to good health.

The research helped create a new drug that restored the woman’s ability to feel pain, but the same research could also be used to eliminate physical pain.

Reversing Painlessness

Previous research points to the role of the sodium ion channel in pain generation. This channel, which does not function correctly in people who lack the ability to feel pain, helps create electrical signals to produce feelings of pain. Previous attempts to disrupt this channel’s activity have been unsuccessful.

The new study explains why these attempts have failed and points to a path for eliminating pain. The sodium ion channel, researchers theorized, might also regulate painkilling molecules called opioid peptides. To test this theory, researchers gave an opioid blocker to genetically modified mice who lacked a fully functioning sodium ion channel. This simple treatment enabled the mice to feel pain.

To find out if the animal research applied to humans, researchers tested the result by giving the woman an opioid blocker called naloxone. The drug temporarily restored her ability to feel pain, suggesting the animal research also applies to humans.

People born without the ability to feel pain are more vulnerable to a broad spectrum of injuries and diseases. The restoration of pain in this group could lead to better health.

A World without Pain?

A better understanding of the sodium ion channel could also be used to reduce or eliminate pain. The team behind the study have already filed a patent application for combining opioids with sodium ion blockers. This combination, which disrupts sodium ion channels, could eliminate pain.

Given the benefits of pain, researchers are in no hurry to eliminate pain among everyone. Traditional painkillers, though, come with many potential issues. Some are highly addictive, while others are unsafe when combined with other drugs. In many cases, pain medication does not do enough to eliminate chronic pain. If future research supports the findings of the current study, a more effective and less addictive option for managing pain may become available.

References:

  1. GM mice reveal the secret to a painless life. (2015, December 4). Retrieved from http://www.science20.com/news_articles/gm_mice_reveal_the_secret_to_a_painless_life-161186
  2. Mole, B. (2015, December 14). Scientists may have found formula for a painless existence. Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/science/2015/12/scientists-may-have-found-formula-for-a-painless-existence/

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  • colette

    colette

    December 16th, 2015 at 11:32 AM

    Since there has always been such a hesitation to buy into the belief that there are those who experience chronic and persistent pain for no known reason could be part of the reason why scientists are in no hurry to eliminate pain altogether. There are some conditions where I understand that there is a need to feel some pain so that you know when there is something amiss. But there are others for whom being in pain is a constant in their lives and it ruins any chance that they will ever have at happiness. Could we at least think about those people when we are considering whether this would be a worthwhile direction to take this research?

  • ericka

    ericka

    December 16th, 2015 at 2:45 PM

    I am sure that there are more than enough pharmaceutical companies who would fight tooth and nail to not allow that to happen!

  • Brian

    Brian

    December 18th, 2015 at 1:18 PM

    There are certain things scientifically that I am all for and there are there things that I think are crazy.

    This is one of those things.

    I think that as human we have to be able to feel some pain. That is how we gauge whether what we are involved in needs to be something that we are involved with. It’s kind of like, I don’t know. it just doesn’t seem right that all pain would be eliminated.

  • J Rivera

    J Rivera

    July 24th, 2016 at 12:38 PM

    Brian, as someone in chronic pain, the goal really is to reduce pain to become functional. Not to never feel pain.

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