Tech & Science

Editing out pain DNA could bring life changing relief

Scientists have found an off switch for the key pain gene.

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Medicine is progressing by leaps and bounds. There are researchers finding new cures or medical technologies being developed around the world. Now, a start-up in San Diego California, has discovered a technique that can alter a patient's DNA to edit out pain.

This new procedure could offer hope to the millions of people who suffer from chronic pain. In fact, according to Navega Therapeutics, the firm that was founded in 2018 and is working on the new technology, 30 percent of Americans are living with some form of chronic or severe pain.

The researchers found a way to actually alter a patient's DNA by "turning off" the gene that transmits pain along the spine according to The Daily Mail. Since people who suffer from chronic pain are frequently treated by addictive opioids, "the major advantage to our approach is that it is not addictive," said Navega co-founder and CSO Fernando Aleman Ph.D.

The method that the start-up said is inspired by nature uses a high-precision gene editing technique that is called CRISPR which uses molecules that can be programmed to find a specific gene. Keep in mind that human cells have over 25,000 genes. This gene altering technique has been successfully used in treating hereditary diseases by altering the gene.

For this research, Navega uses a CRISPR technique called epigenome editing that essentially turns off or silences the gene rather than changing it.

'You can either activate or repress a gene of interest, without creating permanent changes. So, we can repress the gene that’s known to cause sensitivity to pain," said Naveg founder and CEO Ana Moreno, Ph.D. "We are really excited because we have seen, in three different pain models a decrease in overall pain."

To date, trials have been conducted with mice and have been proven successful. Moreno explained that the mice were given chemotherapy which causes pain as a common side effect.

"One of the main reasons why cancer patients stop lifesaving chemotherapy, is they are in a lot of pain from it, " she said. "The higher the dose of chemotherapy, the more likely it is a patient will survive. But the higher the dose, the higher the likelihood they will suffer chronic pain."

Cancer patients are usually given morphine during chemotherapy according to Moreno but that often leads to extreme tiredness. The new gene therapy, if successful in future trials, can replace the use of morphine or other painkillers for a better result including patient's staying on chemo longer.

The effects could last as long six months to a year, Aleman said. The effect will diminish as cells are replenished by new cells that were not silenced. He said the start-up plans on starting human trials in 2021 and the technique has the potential of being approved in five years.

This new technique has the potential to improve the quality of life for the millions of people who suffer from chronic pain due to disease. And at the same time, it can help end the global addiction to painkillers that affects so many people who suffer from serious pain. It really is a win/win.

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