Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Understanding the genetics of pain

23.02.2004


Making some self-described "stupid moves" shifting stones for a sculpture landed Professor Ze’ev Seltzer with nine months of back pain and a more personal appreciation for the importance of his own field of research -- finding the genetic links to chronic pain.


Ze’ev Seltzer
Credit: U of T



"One of the things that really surprised me when I had chronic pain was the anger I felt towards my body that has failed me," Seltzer says. "You really feel this betrayal of the body and disappointment and you think, Why did it happen to me?"

Seltzer’s research shows that part of the answer may lie in genetics. His research team is among the first in the world to identify genes for chronic pain. It is a fledgling field: Seltzer, a Senior Canada Research Chair in Comparative Pain Genetics at the Faculty of Dentistry and the Centre for the Study of Pain, is aware of only one other group in Canada researching pain genetics and less than a handful in the rest of the world. The need for such research is vast, he says, noting that not only does pain involve incalculable human suffering, it is also a major economic burden estimated to cost the Canadian economy about $10 billion a year.


To date, other approaches such as electro-physiology, pharmacology and histology have been unable to provide a satisfactory solution for chronic pain, says Seltzer, explaining that when patients do get some relief, it is often temporary and traded off by side effects. However, not everyone who undergoes a nerve injury or a disease experiences chronic pain. Some may develop terrible pain that cannot be treated while others with the same injury feel no pain whatsoever. A combination of genetic and environmental factors may be to blame, says Seltzer, explaining that people who carry mutations of certain genes may develop a predisposition for chronic pain. He describes genetics as the next boom in pain research that needs both more scientific endeavour and more support from granting agencies and industry. "It is going to change radically the way we understand pain and treat people," he says.

Seltzer’s move to U of T from Hebrew University in his native Israel in 2002 was motivated, he says, by the infrastructure opportunities offered through the Canada Research Chairs program and by U of T’s reputation as "a bubbling arena for pain research, with many first-rate scientists and pain clinicians in affiliated hospitals." He brought with him from Israel a collection of nearly 1,000 DNA samples -- 650 of women post-mastectomy (60 per cent of whom developed chronic pain) and 250 of mainly men who’d lost a leg in combat (80 per cent of whom developed phantom pain and stump pain). This collection is unique in the world in terms of size and content and Seltzer’s team plans to expand it by collecting DNA from people with chronic pain in Canada, especially back pain and arthritis, and from war-torn countries where landmines, sadly, produce new amputees daily.

Seltzer’s team takes a complementary, comparative approach, using rodent models to identify the chromosomal location of genes associated with pain, then moving to human DNA samples to test whether those genes also play a role in human pain. With further study, scientists will be able to develop treatments or drugs based on such genomic knowledge, he says; pain genetics could even lead to the development of diagnostic kits to identify people at a high risk for developing chronic pain from nerve injury or disease.

"For instance, we know that either mastectomy or lumpectomy of the breast ends up with the development of chronic pain in about 60 per cent of the subjects," Seltzer says. "So once we have those kits developed, we will be able to identify before the operation whether a woman is disposed genetically do develop chronic pain. And in those cases, pharmacogenetic knowledge will enable us to develop preventive medicine by treating patients before the operation and immediately thereafter to prevent the outbreak of chronic pain."

Seltzer’s study of pain has seeped into his 10-year hobby of sculpture, which saw him complete several public commissions for large-scale fountains and sculptures in Israel. He sees his art as a complementary expression of his scientific interests; many of his sculptures depict amputated figures that express might and the strength to continue on through the experience of loss.

"What is pain all about if not a response to a loss or to an injury -- loss of a limb or injury that leaves the body incapacitated, amputated, with less faculties," Seltzer says. "Yet out of this loss people do derive mechanisms to cope with the loss and to try to live as normal lives as possible."

Jessica Whiteside | University of Toronto
Further information:
http://www.news.utoronto.ca/lead/200204.html

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht Nanoparticles as a Solution against Antibiotic Resistance?
15.12.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

nachricht Plasmonic biosensors enable development of new easy-to-use health tests
14.12.2017 | Aalto University

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: First-of-its-kind chemical oscillator offers new level of molecular control

DNA molecules that follow specific instructions could offer more precise molecular control of synthetic chemical systems, a discovery that opens the door for engineers to create molecular machines with new and complex behaviors.

Researchers have created chemical amplifiers and a chemical oscillator using a systematic method that has the potential to embed sophisticated circuit...

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Engineers program tiny robots to move, think like insects

15.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

One in 5 materials chemistry papers may be wrong, study suggests

15.12.2017 | Materials Sciences

New antbird species discovered in Peru by LSU ornithologists

15.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>