Friday, December 15, 2006

Gene for pain perception found

The famous late Pakistani kid who walked on hot coals without giving the slightest indication of discomfort has helped a research team led by C. Geoffrey Woods discover the human gene that regulates pain perception:
A mutation in the gene knocks out all perception of injury, raising hopes of developing novel drugs that would abolish pain by blocking the gene’s function.
As a kid I loved Piers Anthony's Xanth novels, full of clever puns and set in a medieval age fantasy realm. The fictional universe has a healing spring that upon drinking instantly upgrades the one imbibing it to a state that is as healthy as possible given his genetic makeup. Drugs regulating this gene (SCN9A) might do the next best thing--allow us to feel optimally healthy. All those daily discomforts (stubbing a toe, tapping a 'funny bone', etc) eliminated. Of course, you'd probably be more likely to break a toe or gash your arm if you were oblivious to the pain. Pain sensation has obvious evolutionary benefits (the Pakistani scamp in feature tragically died after jumping off a roof while playing with friends), and ridding yourself of it would probably put you at greater risk of seriously injuring yourself to the point of decapacitation.

A neurologist quoted in Wade's piece thinks drug developers will be able to do a lot with Woods' discovery as the defective gene in the Pakistani boy (and a few other members of his community) doesn't appear to have any side effects.

Because of its rarity and the fact that expression requires two defective copies of the gene, there is little chance of it spreading rapidly. But perhaps it occurs relatively frequently in the Muslim and Hindu worlds. The Mahdi Army could use such information. It be easier to convince a potential suicide bomber to take a first-class ticket to heaven if having his insides exploded in a thousand directions would be a painless experience.

If drugs are developed to effectively shutdown SCN9A, what will this mean for the sports world? How much money will a pay-per-view fight between two prizefighters who don't experience pain sensations bring in? Jackass antics will be taken to a whole new level. More ominously, what about criminal activity? High potency drugs like meth and PCP can already make criminals especially bold and vicious--what if the miscreants feel no pain at all?

Take all this to yet another level if gene therapies are developed to manipulate the gene. Science will continue to allow people to take their bodies to the very edge. It'll be interesting to see, if drugs are developed, how their use will be regulated.

1 comment:

JSBolton said...

The new frontiers opening up before gene research are relatively unheralded.
This might very easily be because the power-greed of the mighty is conspicuously disinterested in information which tells us that heredity and not manipulable environment, is where the major
causation of a problem is to be found.
To those who look at every real or hyped problem, as a chance to satisfy such power-greed, genetic
causation is the one answer that they don't want to hear.