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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 18:19 GMT
'Pain gene' found
Treatment of back pain could one day be helped by the discovery
Treatment of back pain could be helped by the discovery
Scientists have found a gene whose absence can help reduce pain.

Tests on genetically engineered mice which lacked a particular gene showed a "dramatic" loss of sensitivity, appearing to feel up to 50% less pain compared to mice who had the gene.

The discovery by Canadian researchers could one day open the door for the development of drugs to help patients with terminal cancer, chronic backaches and other problems.

The gene concerned is DREAM (downstream regulatory element antagonistic modulator).

Pain is a huge, silent public health crisis that is only beginning to be addressed

Professor Michael Salter, University of Toronto
The DREAM gene blocks production of dynorphin, a chemical with pain-relieving effects produced in response to pain or stress.

In the mice which did not have the DREAM gene, more dynorphin was produced in the part of the spinal cord involved in transmitting and controlling pain messages.

The mice were discovered to have reduced sensitivity to all types of pain.

Researchers from the University of Toronto, The Hospital for Sick Children and the Amgen Institute said the success in reducing neuropathic pain, sharp - chronic pain resulting from nerve injury - was particularly significant because there are currently no widely effective treatments for this kind of pain.

Different approach

Professor Michael Salter, director of the University of Toronto Centre for the Study of Pain and co-author of the study, said: "Pain is a huge, silent public health crisis that is only beginning to be addressed by researchers.

He added: "There's a great interest in this finding because it's so different from the traditional approaches researchers have been taking to pain management."

At the moment, patients experiencing severe pain are given drugs to control their condition.

A treatment based on the DREAM gene discovery could prove a breakthrough because the mice in the study did not become addicted to the pain control chemicals their bodies produced.

This, say researchers, may prove to be an advantage over the potentially addictive drugs such as morphine.

Professor Saltier said: "These findings point to a novel pharmacological approach to pain management where researchers will be looking for drugs that could block the ability of DREAM to bind to DNA or simply prevent the production of DREAM."

But such a treatment may be hard to develop because the DREAM gene works deep inside cells.

The research is published in the journal Cell.

See also:

07 Dec 01 | Health
Brain links pain with pleasure
03 Dec 01 | Health
Why back pain is hard to beat
11 Feb 99 | Health
Genetic link to back pain
23 Apr 99 | Health
The power of mind over matter
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