If you’re among the 50 million Americans suffering from chronic pain, you know all too well how a sharp jab in your back or ache in your knee is more than an inconvenience—it affects your everyday life. Despite the marvels of modern medicine, treating it remains challenging due to the complexity of chronic pain and how it’s unique to each sufferer. Yet searching for new and safe painkillers is especially important given the toll of the ongoing opioid crisis.
Fortunately, scientists may have found the pain-relieving golden goose, according to a new study published Tuesday in the journal Science. Researchers at the University of São Paulo in Brazil have created a promising new drug that targets a pathway in the human body that triggers pain sensations. The drug, named TAT-pQYP, provided relief to mice suffering from inflammatory pain, and it may one day be the answer for many different kinds of chronic pain.
There can be a whole host of medical conditions behind pain like disease or physical injury, but the biological reason for those unpleasant twinges is nociceptors, or sensory neurons that detect damage in skin, muscle, bones, and other internal organs. When a nociceptor senses trauma—like when you scald your hand with a hot cup of coffee—it sends the information to the brain and spinal cord for further processing. In the case of burning your hand, as long as the injury isn’t severe and you received timely medical treatment, the raw burning sensation tends to go away on its own. But in some conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, or serious physical trauma, the pain might not go away. This could be because the nociceptors are kept active by chemical signals like inflammation or there is some sort of damage to the nervous system.
Over the years, scientists have noticed one shady character cropping up whenever pain does: nerve growth factor (NGF), a protein important to the development and survival of neurons, especially those that transmit sensory information like temperature and pain. In certain conditions like osteoarthritis, NGF can keep nociceptors perpetually on and lead to persistent, chronic pain.
Some treatments tackling the protein head-on are still in development (like antibodies that hunt down NGF and sequester it before it can poke a neuron). But such treatments can have undesirable side effects like preventing neuron growth. Scientists like the University of São Paulo group are trying instead focus on other targets like TrkA, a receptor that’s found on the surface of some sensory neurons and activated by NGF. It can launch a domino effect inside the neuron of other proteins signaling pain.
The researchers looked at the genes of patients who have congenital insensitivity to pain as well as those with anhidrosis, a rare genetic disorder where people affected are unable to feel pain and temperature. The University of São Paulo team found that mutated forms of a gene in these patients prevented TrkA from…
Read Full Story At: The Daily Beast.