British researchers have discovered a secret to painless human life using genetically modified mice.
According to researchers at the University College London, they’ve found the recipe for painlessness. Through tests, they confirmed that Nav1.7, a sodium-ion channel in nerve cells called nociceptors, is a key element in human pain. Our body uses these channels to transmit pain signals to the spinal cord and brain.
The study, published in the journal Nature, involved genetically-modified mice lacking the nerve channel Nav.17. Researchers says that the opioid peptides is the key ingredient, and they mixed it Nav1.7 blockers in order to recreate the mutation.
The researchers gave naloxone, an opioid blocker to genetically-modified mice lacking Nav1.7 and mice was able to feel pain. Then, they gave naloxone to 39-year-old woman with the rare genetic, and she felt pain for the first time in her life.
The new study also showed that people who lack Nav1.7 also produce higher than normal levels of natural opioid peptides.
“After a decade of rather disappointing drug trials, we now have confirmation that Nav1.7 really is a key element in human pain,” says Professor John Wood, who is senior author of the study.
“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.”
Sodium channel blockers are used as local anaesthetics, but they are not suitable for long-term pain management as they cause complete numbness and can have serious side-effects over time. Opioid painkillers such as morphine are highly effective at reducing pain, but long-term use can lead to dependence and tolerance. As the body becomes used to the drug it becomes less effective so higher doses are needed for the same effect, side effects become more severe, and eventually it stops working altogether, according to the study.
“We hope to see our approach tested in human trials by 2017 and we can then start looking into drug combinations to help the millions of chronic pain patients around the world,” Professor Wood notes.