Around a decade ago, scientists identified a gene called SCN9A – which plays a key role in transmitting pain signals up the spinal cord – and found that people with a mutation of this gene barely experience pain. Now, in experiments on mice, scientists at the University of San Diego in the US have discovered that by using a variant of the gene editing technique Crispr, they can temporarily disable SCN9A, and so block its pain-inducing effects.
If this technique can be applied to humans, it could lead to the development of new painkilling treatments that are more effective, and much safer, than existing ones. Currently many of the millions of people who suffer from chronic pain are reliant on opioids – which are addictive, have unpleasant side effects and are highly dangerous. In the US, tens of thousands of people a year die of overdoses from painkilling narcotics, and around two million are addicted to them. The San Diego team hopes to start human trials next year. (The Week, 18 January 2020).
My comment: I write as someone with constant, if low level, back pain, like so many my age. I have exercises to deal with it, but resist taking painkillers, if possible, and absolutely won’t succumb to opioids. So this news is potentially good news.