If you’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all (a la Lady Antebellum), this medical breakthrough is not for you. But for the rest of us who’d like an end to physical pain (sorry, heartbreak not included), science has delivered once again. A team of British scientists has discovered the secret to human pain, which in turn has unlocked the recipe for ending it altogether — a classic case of working backwards to find the answer. “After a decade of rather disappointing drug trials, we now have confirmation that Nav1.7 really is a key element in human pain,” said Professor John Wood, senior author of the Nature paper detailing study results.
Wood and his team came to their conclusions by studying individuals with a rare genetic mutation that makes it impossible for them to feel pain. In 2006, previous studies revealed that Nav1.7, a sodium channel present in normal humans, is paramount in the pain signaling process. Individuals with nonfunctioning Nav1.7 live a physically painless life. But Wood went a step further, and discovered that both people and the test mice used in his research produced more natural opioid peptides than normal. And opioid peptides, Wood says, are the missing link in painlessness.
“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,” Wood said. “This should replicate the painlessness experienced by people with rare mutations, and we have already successfully tested this approach in unmodified mice.”
Blocking sodium channels is nothing new in terms of pain management, but it’s never been proven as an effective long-term solution. However, with this latest discovery, Wood hopes that doctors can provide their patients with a new method of addressing discomfort in a safe, sustainable way.
“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,” the scientist noted.
So congratulations, world. We may be looking at a pain-free future.