Gene That Controls Chronic Pain—Discovered

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The discovery of a gene that controls chronic pain may pave the way to developing more effective medicines that will target pain sensation, leading to efficient pain relief. The said gene, called HCN2 has been discovered by British scientists from Cambridge University.

According to the scientists, chronic pain, especially neuropathic pain may be relieved if drugs will be developed to target or block the proteins produced by such gene. Neuropathic pain often leads to nerve damage and is one of the most challenging types of pain to cure, with the drugs available today.

Peter McNaughton, the lead author of the study, and also Cambridge University’s pharmacology department said that “Individuals suffering from neuropathic pain often have little or no respite because of the lack of effective medications.” He also mentioned that their study is groundwork for the development of new drugs to treat chronic pain due to the proteins produced by HCN2.

About 200 billion Euros and 150 billion dollars are being spent for pain, in Europe and the United States, respectively. This makes pain one of the health burdens that cause a lot of health expenses. Several studies in Europe about chronic pain has yielded results pointing out that one out of five Europeans suffer from chronic pain. Also, it has been found that 22% and 25% of people with chronic pain tend to become depressed, and lose their jobs, respectively.

For several years now, scientists have been aware of the existence of the HCN2 genes in the pain-sensitive nerves, but it is only now that they have fully understood its role in pain sensation. This study published in the journal Science engineered the removal of the HCN2 genes in the pain-sensitive nerves. They applied electrical stimuli on the nerves and examined how they would respond with the removal of the HCN2 genes.

They made use of mice to examine how fast they would withdraw from the pain stimuli. They were able to find out that removal of the HCN2 gene lessened or took neuropathic pain away. Furthermore, they found out that removing the HCN2 gene has no effect on acute pain. Acute pain happens with accidental stimuli like biting the tongue, cutting your fingers, touching hot surfaces, etc. According to the scientists, it may have no effect on acute pain since it is the brain’s way of alarming or signaling the body of something dangerous/ harmful.

“What is exciting about the work on the HCN2 gene is that removing it — or blocking it pharmacologically — eliminates neuropathic pain without affecting normal acute pain. This finding could be very valuable clinically because normal pain sensation is essential for avoiding accidental damage,” says McNaughton in his report.

An estimated 50 million Americans suffer from persistent pain each year, according to the American Pain Foundation. Add two loved ones for every patient and the total number of people affected is at least 150 million Americans–50% of the population. Also, 1 in 3 Americans lose more than 20 hours of sleep each month due to pain, according to the American Alliance of Cancer Pain Initiatives (AACPI).

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