Genetic analysis of a 71-year-old woman who has never felt real pain or anxiety — including during childbirth — has doctors optimistic about the possibility of creating novel pain treatments that could replace addictive and potentially dangerous medications such as opioids.
Scotland resident Jo Cameron said it wasn’t until recently that she realized her experience of pain was vastly different from other people’s. Five years ago, she said, Dr. Devjit Srivastava, a pain medicine consultant who helped author a recent paper on Cameron’s genetic abnormalities, grew concerned after Cameron insisted she didn’t need pain medication after undergoing surgery on her hand. Looking into her medical history, Srivastava discovered a number of irregularities — including a long history of refusing painkillers.
When Cameron had her hip replaced at age 65, doctors reported that the bone was so severely degraded that it should have been excruciating, but Cameron felt nothing. Giving birth, Cameron told researchers, was akin to “a tickle.” Burns, cuts, and fractures, she said, were scarcely noticeable. Adding to the mystery, doctors found that Cameron’s injuries healed unusually quickly and with virtually no scar tissue. Cameron also says she’s rarely felt anxiety or fear during her long life, and scored a zero out of 21 on an anxiety disorder questionnaire.
“I am very happy,” she explained simply.
Researchers believe these unusual qualities are tied to a genetic abnormality in a gene called FAAH-OUT. In Cameron, a mutation has effectively disabled much of the gene’s functions. Medicines or potential gene therapies that mimic this abnormality, researchers say, could forever revolutionize the pain medicine industry.
“The findings point towards a novel painkiller discovery that could potentially offer post-surgical pain relief and also accelerate wound healing,” wrote Srivastava. “We hope this could help the 330 million patients who undergo surgery globally every year.”
Read the full story at the New York Times.