Chronic pain is a pain: How gene editing offers hopeful alternative to addictive opioids

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Credit: Growing Life
Credit: Growing Life

Chronic pain—defined as pain that persists for longer than 12 weeks despite medication or treatment—is estimated to affect some 20 percent of adults in the world (or 1.5 billion people), with hundreds of millions more being newly diagnosed with it each year. Clinically, chronic pain can be extremely difficult to manage, not least of all because it often manifests itself in the absence of physical injury. 

[R]ecent research suggests that newly developed genome editing techniques could one day be used to treat pain. Scientists at the University of California, San Diego, are using CRISPR to deliver a gene encoding a “suppressor” protein, which binds to the SCNA9 gene, preventing synthesis of Nav1.7 channels… [B]inding of the suppressor protein is reversible, and so the SCNA9 gene is temporarily silenced rather than permanently altered. 

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[T]he team reported that this genetic construct effectively produces long-lasting relief from several different types of pain when injected in mice. 

“You wouldn’t want to permanently lose the ability to feel pain, [so] we’re not doing something irreversible,” says lead researcher Ana Moreno. “It’s not cutting out any genes, so there are no permanent changes to the genome.” 

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