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Study asks: Are genetics related to pain levels?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 21st, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

According to a new medical study, sensitivity to pain is all in the genes. People who feel pain less intensely could have a particular set of genes that work together to regulate pain, a new study published in the journal PLOS Genetics.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Researchers believe that this knowledge could lead to the development of more effective pain relief treatments. As is common knowledge, people who are sensitive to pain encountered in everyday life are more likely to develop chronic pain, which lasts for longer than six months.

"Chronic pain is a significant personal and socio-economic burden, with nearly one in five people experiencing it at some time in their lives," Dr. Frances Williams, from the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London says.

"Current pain treatments often have either limited efficacy or side effects for many, so the possibility of a new approach to pain relief is an exciting development."

In the study, 2,500 volunteers were asked to press a button when a heat sensor on their arm became too painful for them. The DNA of 200 of the most and least pain sensitive people was then analyzed.

The study proved that different patterns of genetic variants in each group. The pain sensitive people had less variation in their DNA than those who were pain insensitive.

"More and more evidence supports our theory that rare variants, which were overlooked in genome-wide association study, play a very important role in complex diseases and traits," Xin Jin, project manager from the Beijing Genomics Institute, said.

"The next generation of sequencing will make it possible to explore these rare variants and will lead to a wave of new discoveries in biomedical research."

Ruth McKernan, chief scientific officer of Pfizer's Research Unit in Cambridge, praised the effort, saying it offered the opportunity for a melding of resources. "This study demonstrates the value of collaborative efforts between academia and industry.

"The genetic influence on normal pain processing in human volunteer populations will add to other approaches and help us prioritize potential new mechanisms for treating pain."

Recent research has found that 77 per cent of those living with chronic pain have suffered for years, yet many are not seeking professional support from GPs or pain clinics.

More importantly, the study highlighted the huge impact pain has on people's lives, with nearly half of those questioned admitting to feeling depressed as a result of their condition. Nearly 10 percent said it had made them feel suicidal at some point.

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