The Secret of Painlessness Cracked


Though it’s undeniable that pain is necessary for survival, it is also the thing that everyone wants to get rid of. Well, in near future it might just be possible to get rid of pain for good according to a recent study published in journal Nature Communications.

Researchers at University College London (UCL) have discovered the secret of channels responsible for transmitting pain signals through the nerve cell membranes.

In a 2006 research it was established that Nav1.7, a sodium channel is responsible for pain transmission through the nerves. People who are born with non-functioning Nav1.7 cannot feel pain.

Now the researchers at UCL found in both mice and humans that those who lack Nav1.7 also produce natural opioid peptides in amount more than normal. To confirm if these opioids played important role in pain-blocking, they gave naloxone (opioid blocker) to genetically modified mice without Nav1.7. The mice were able to feel pain.

Naloxone was then tested on a woman aged 39 years who was born with a rare mutation that allowed her to not feel pain. Even she was able to feel pain for the first time.

It was concluded that the secret ingredient in painlessness turns out to be the same age-old opioid peptides. However, combining low dose of opioids with Nav1.7 blockers is what would do the trick. It would replicate the conditions as prevalent in people with the rare mutation. They have already tested the same on mice, and awaiting human trials in 2017.

Let’s take a look at the significance of this breakthrough. Currently, local anaesthetics such as broad- spectrum sodium channel blockers are being used. However these are not at all suitable for long term pain management due to their serious side effects including complete numbness.

On the other hand, people born with the non-working Nav1.7 mutation are still able to feel non-pain touch. Only notable side-effect is the incapacity to smell.

Other widely used painkiller comprises of opioid painkillers like morphine are, though, highly effective painkillers, their long term may lead to serious side effects like dependence and tolerance. With continued usage of opioids their efficiency decreases and higher doses are required for similar results. Thus, side effects are increased. Eventually the drugs stop working at all.

When opioids are used in combination with Nav1.7 blockers, even small quantities of opioids are sufficient to prevent pain. In fact, people with the non-working Nav1.7 regularly produce opioids in small quantities without any side effects or tolerance.