Scientists have found a gene that regulates chronic pain, a discovery that could potentially boost the effectiveness of painkilling drugs, according to a new study in the journal Science.
The gene, called HCN2, is located at the pain-sensitive ends of nerves, Reuters reported. Apparently scientists had known about the existence of HCN2 before, but didn't know what role it played in pain.
Researchers found that by removing this gene from the nerve endings in mice, they no longer felt chronic pain, BBC News reported. They measured their pain response by seeing how quickly they reacted to pain.
"Our research lays the groundwork for the development of new drugs to treat chronic pain by blocking HCN2," study researcher Peter McNaughton of Cambridge University told Reuters.
The finding offers hope for people with neuropathic chronic pain, caused by nerve damage, BBC News reported. Neuropathic pain is common in people with conditions like diabetes, shingles and lower back pain, and is separate from inflammatory pain, which is caused by ultra-sensitive nerve endings.
Right now in the United States, 116 million people suffer from chronic pain, the American Academy of Pain Medicine reported.
Improving treatments for chronic pain is important because of the toll it can have on other parts of a person's life, the Daily Mail reported. For example, 22 percent of chronic pain-sufferers are depressed, and 25 percent of them lose their jobs.
There are no 100-percent effective treatments for neuropathic pain, MedicineNet reported. Some people benefit from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like Motrin or Aleve, while other people need stronger painkillers. Electrical nerve stimulation is also an option for bad cases.