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Home / Health / At 71, she never felt pain or fear. Now scientists know why.

At 71, she never felt pain or fear. Now scientists know why.



It has been said that the birth would be painful. But as the lessons lasted, she did not bother anything – even without epidural.

"I felt that my body changed, but it did not hurt me," recalls today's 71-year-old Mrs. Jo Cameron. She compared it to "a tickle". Later, she told future mothers, "Do not worry, it's not as bad as people say."

It was not until over four decades that she learned that her friends were not exaggerating.

Rather, the way her body felt pain had something else: Mostly, it did not.

Scientists believe they understand why now. In a paper published Thursday in the British Journal of Anesthesia, the researchers attributed Ms. Cameron's nearly painless life to a mutation in a previously unidentified gene. They hope that the finding could ultimately contribute to the development of a novel pain treatment. They believe that this mutation is also related to why Ms. Cameron has had little fear or anxiety throughout her life and why her body heals quickly.

"We have never met such a patient," said John Wood, head of the Molecular Nociception Group at University College London.

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Scientists have documented case studies of individuals who have had little or no pain for almost 100 years. The genetic mutation that seems to be responsible for the virtual painlessness of Mrs. Cameron, however, was not yet known.

The study was developed in the emotional debate on the responsible treatment of pain. On Thursday, the state of New York filed one of the most extensive lawsuits against the Sackler family, including Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of the opioid OxyContin.

And it was another indication that we need less chronic pain, Dr. Stephen G. Waxman, a neurologist in Yale and the author of "Chasing Men in Fire: The Story of Seeking a Pain Gene." Dr. Waxman was not involved in the recent publication, but also studies people who do have rare mutations that alter their pain experience.

Some inquiries revealed that Mrs. Cameron was unusual. At 65, she had to replace her hip. Because it had not caused her pain, she had not noticed that anything was wrong until it degenerated severely. Cuts, burns, fractures – that did not hurt either. In fact, it often took the smell of burned flesh or the identification of her blood by her husband, so she noticed something wrong. She also said that eating scotch cap chili peppers left just a "pleasant glow."

Dr. Srivastava referred her to the Molecular Nociception Group at University College London, a team focused on genetic approaches to understanding the biology of pain and touch. They had some clues for them. In recent decades, scientists have identified dozens of other people who are handling pain in an unusual way. But as James Cox, a senior lecturer in this group and another author of the new paper, examined her genetic profile, not resembling anyone else known to live without pain.

Finally, he found what he was looking for on a gene scientist call FAAH-OUT. We all have this gene. But with Ms. Cameron, "the patient has a deletion that removes the front of the gene," he said. Additional blood work confirmed this hypothesis, he said.

Cameron said she was shocked by the interest in her case. Until her conversation with dr. Srivastava did not think she was in pain. Perhaps it helped that although she often burned herself and cut herself in, her injuries rarely left scars – something scientists believe to be related to the mutation.

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A number of articles have been written about parents of children with similar illnesses. Many live in fear that their children will not learn to hurt themselves without pain. Her parents never made it a problem, she said. She suspects that this may be because she inherited the mutation from her father.

"I can not remember that he needed painkillers," she said. "I think that's why I did not find it strange."

Unfortunately, since he died before the discovery, it will not be known if he carries the mutation. Your mother does not share it. Not your daughter either. Her son "has the same microdeletion in FAAH-OUT, but does not have the other mutation that causes the reduced FAAH function," Dr. Cox.

In other words, her son shares some but not all of her insensitivity pain.

Scientists are also fascinated by Ms. Cameron's exceptionally low levels of anxiety. In an anxiety disorder questionnaire she scored 0 out of 21 points. She can not remember ever feeling depressed or frightened.

"I'm very happy," she said.

Looking back, she sees how her genetic disposition can look like helped her at work. After years as a primary school teacher she has again dealt with people with severe mental disabilities. Irregular, aggressive behavior has never upset her, she said.

But although this mutation sounds like a dream, there are also disadvantages. For one thing, she is rather forgetful; She tended to lose her keys and train of thought. The other is that she never felt the "adrenaline rush" others talk about, she said.

The researchers said they would now focus on better understanding how FAAH-OUT works so they can develop gene therapy for other pain intervention around it. Turning such a discovery into real pain or anxiety treatment takes many steps, many years, and many millions of dollars. It is rare for a product to enter the market.

Dr. Waxman has never experienced it before. As a reminder of how an individual with an unusual genetic make-up can shape the future of medicine, he referred to statin drugs.

"They were largely developed on the basis and discovery of incredibly rare families in which all heart attacks had 20s," he said. Whether it is Ms. Cameron's mutation or another individual's mutation that determines the future of painkillers, it's too early to say.

"But I'm pretty confident that the lessons we learn from the pain-related genes will lead to the development of a whole new class of painkillers," he said.


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