A team of researchers at the University of California have found gene therapy has several advantages for chronic pain. It is a safer, non-addictive substitute to opioids. The team of researchers have developed a new therapy, wherein one gene involved in sensing pain is temporarily repressed. By doing this, it increased pain tolerance in mice, reduced their sensitivity for pain, and provided several months of relief without causing numbness.
The findings is published in a Science Translational Medicine.
For clinical purposes, the gene therapy could be used for the treatment of a broad range of chronic pain disorders, from lower back pain to uncommon neuropathic pain conditions. Currently, opioid painkillers are the standard care for these conditions.
“In fact, what is currently used does not work,” said the first author of the study. This is because opioids can make people more sensitive to pain over time, which leads them to increasingly rely on their higher doses. This implies there is a desperate need for treatment that is effective, non-addictive, and long-lasting.
The idea emerged when the researcher investigated the possibility of employing CRISPR-based gene therapy approaches for rare as well as common diseases. The project focused on investigating the potential of therapeutic avenues: Earlier, the researcher came across a publication about genetic mutation that manifests in the form of humans not to experience pain. This mutation disables a protein in pain-transferring neurons in the spinal cord, known as NaV1.7 Meanwhile, individuals who lack functional NaV1.7, sensations of pain such as touching something sharp or hot are not registered as pain. Contrarily, a gene mutation that leads to over appearance of the neurons causing individuals to experience more pain.