Researchers in the U.S. have discovered that chronic pain can be successfully treated with a new gene therapy technique.
The gene therapy technique works by simulating the pain-killing effect of opiate drugs and the researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine suggest it could become an alternative treatment for patients with severe chronic pain.
In the new study, the researchers from the school's department of medicine and neurosciences developed a technique where they injected rats in the spine with a gene that triggers endorphins, the body's natural pain killer.
The rats had been genetically engineered to suffer from chronic pain and by blocking the pain impulses travelling up to their brains, the rats remained pain-free for at least three months.
The researchers found that the therapy did not affect the rest of the nervous system, including the brain, preventing the main side-effects of current pain relief.
Research suggests drugs do not relieve cancer pain in as many as 66% of cases and Dr. Beutler says he believes that in some circumstances, patients prefer to continue suffering some pain in order to preserve lucidity.
Professor Turo Nurmikko from the Pain Research Institute says once the researchers have shown that in animal models of chronic pain, there is long-standing improvement, mention may be made of a medical breakthrough.
Dr. Beutler says targeted gene therapy avoids the unwanted side effects associated with drugs such as morphine and appears to be a promising candidate for research that might ultimately be tested in patients with intractable chronic pain, such as those suffering from severe pain due to advanced cancer.
Although cancer patients could benefit most from such a technique, recent research suggests that as many as 20% of adults suffer from chronic or intermittent pain for which no satisfactory treatment has been found.
The research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.