Drugs able to tackle enduring back pain could result from the discovery, made by UK medical researchers, of the role played by a gene known as HCN2.
The team's findings, covered in the Science publication, describe how the removal of this gene nullifies chronic pain, even though acute pain sensations remain. The report could open up a channel towards a new breed of drugs that can switch off the protein that HCN2 produces, which acts as a chronic pain regulator.
Chronic pain affects something like 15 per cent of the UK population and while it commonly affects the back, it can also manifest in the form of headaches and arthritis. The HCN2 gene itself isn't a new discovery but, up until now, the medical world hasn't been fully aware of its pain-regulating role.
Chronic Pain Drug
The chronic pain drug research was carried out at the University of Cambridge and was a highly multi-layered project. It began when those involved extracted HCN2 from pain-sensitive nerves. The nerves were next electrically-stimulated, while the researchers assessed how the removal of HCN2 impacted on proceedings.
Following that, the Cambridge researchers looked at a group of mice, who had been adapted so they no longer carried HCN2. The mice were subjected to pain at various levels - their responses indicating to the scientists how, in the absence of HCN2, they reacted.
As a result, they learned that, when HCN2 was no longer present, neither was chronic pain.
HCN2 Gene Pain Findings
"Individuals suffering from neuropathic pain often have little or no respite because of the lack of effective medications", head researcher Professor Peter McNaughton explained, in a statement on the HCN2 gene pain findings "Our research lays the groundwork for the development of new drugs to treat chronic pain by blocking HCN2."
"What is exciting about the work on the HCN2 gene is that removing it - or blocking it pharmacologically - eliminates neuropathic pain without affecting normal acute pain", he added.
"This finding could be very valuable clinically because normal pain sensation is essential for avoiding accidental damage."