Pain is part of the human condition: everyone, at some point in their lives, will experience aches and discomfort as our bodies adapt to a variety of different situations. Most of the time, these experiences are limited to headaches, back pain, and other relatively minor conditions that can be eased with the right treatment. However, chronic pain disorders and diseases characterized by painful treatment, such as cancer, are infamous for causing suffering that can lead to drug dependency and other harmful side effects. Fortunately, a team of scientists says they have found a way to “switch off” pain that could be used to create better treatments for these conditions.
While studying rats with chronic neuropathic pain, a disorder caused by nerve damage, a research team at St. Louis University in Missouri found that they could block pain pathways by turning on a receptor in the brain and spinal cord. Called A3, the receptor was able to prevent or reverse pain when activated with adenosine, a native chemical analeptic. In a report published in Brain, an Oxford University medical journal focused on neurology, the researchers noted that the treatment showed no other side effects.
Currently, the team’s findings are being investigated for potential applications as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer measures. If successful, the treatments created could revolutionize therapies used to treat chronic pain conditions and diseases like cancer,which is notorious for its use of painful procedures like chemotherapy. Moreover, the resulting medication would be unlikely to create dependence or increasing tolerance, in which patients adjust to the treatment and require stronger doses. Unfortunately, this medication would likely not be used for every condition, as blocking pain could hide warning signs of more serious problems.
“Although it is early in the clinical research process, this study on the A3 receptor is great news for patients with chronic intractable pain,” says Stephen Kyle Young, M.D.,CEO/Medical Director, Center for Spine and Sports Medicine. “This represents a novel approach to treating multiple chronic pain conditions including inflammatory and neuropathic pain syndromes. These are particularly difficult conditions to treat with current medications and interventions. Treating a novel pain receptor like, A3, along with traditional therapies may unlock to door to true multi-modal chronic pain treatment.”
Pain management techniques often use multidisciplinary approaches to chronic pain, and patients will often consult with a variety of medical professionals, psychologists, therapists and other specialists to identify the best way to treat their symptoms. However, while it may not yield results for everyone, a number of experts are excited about the possibilities the adenosine study has revealed, which could potentially improve the quality of life for millions of patients living in pain.