A 71-year-old Scottish woman may offer a wondrous path to the reduction or elimination of pain in humans because of one astonishing fact: she has never experienced physical pain.
Jo Cameron’s body works in such a way that she has even remained unaware of burning herself until she smelled her skin burning, as CNN reports. She paid little attention to her remarkable capacity for a pain-free existence until doctors found she had severe degeneration in her hip joint when she was 65 — but had no pain at all. When she was 66, she had surgery on her hand, but had no pain after surgery. Cameron stated, “I had no idea until a few years ago that there was anything that unusual about how little pain I feel. I just thought it was normal.” At age 65, the woman sought treatment for an issue with her hip, which turned out to involve severe joint degeneration despite her experiencing no pain.
A case study that was published on Thursday in the British Journal of Anaesthesia revealed that researchers found Cameron had mutations in her FAAH gene and her dubbed FAAH-OUT gene. The study remarked:
One was a microdeletion in a pseudogene, previously only briefly annotated in medical literature, which the researchers have described for the first time and dubbed FAAH-OUT. She also had a mutation in the neighboring gene that controls the FAAH enzyme. Further tests by collaborators at the University of Calgary, Canada, revealed elevated blood levels of neurotransmitters that are normally degraded by FAAH, further evidence for a loss of FAAH function.
The FAAH gene has been examined frequently by scientists, but the FAAH-OUT gene has undergone little analysis.
Dr. Frances Williams, a professor of genomic epidemiology at King’s College London, acknowledged that FAAH “has already been the target of several clinical trials,” but the research regarding FAAH-OUT could be a “more effective way of creating a painkiller.”
Dr. Devjit Srivastava, who examined Cameron and is the co-lead author of the study, proclaimed: “The implications for these findings are immense. One out of two patients after surgery today still experiences moderate to severe pain, despite all advances in painkiller medications. The findings point towards a novel painkiller discovery that could potentially offer post-surgical pain relief and also accelerate wound healing. We hope this could help the 330 million patients who undergo surgery globally every year.”
James Cox, one of the study’s lead researchers, added, “We found this woman has a particular genotype that reduces activity of a gene already considered to be a possible target for pain and anxiety treatments. People with rare insensitivity to pain can be valuable to medical research as we learn how their genetic mutations impact how they experience pain, so we would encourage anyone who does not experience pain to come forward. Now that we are uncovering how this newly identified gene works, we hope to make further progress on new treatment targets.”
According to the study, Cameron “experiences very little anxiety and fear, and may have enhanced wound healing due to the mutation, which the researchers say could help guide new treatments for a range of conditions.” It adds, “She is an optimist who was given the lowest score on a common anxiety scale, and reports never panicking even in dangerous situations such as a recent traffic incident. “
Cameron concluded, “I would be elated if any research into my own genetics could help other people who are suffering.”