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 New antibody analysis accelerates rational vaccine design
09.08.2018 | Scripps Research Institute

nachricht Distrust of power influences choice of medical procedures
01.08.2018 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

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: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

Im Focus: Lining up surprising behaviors of superconductor with one of the world's strongest magnets

Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of a copper-oxide compound depends on the magnetic field in a very unusual way -- a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperatur

What happens when really powerful magnets--capable of producing magnetic fields nearly two million times stronger than Earth's--are applied to materials that...

Im Focus: World record: Fastest 3-D tomographic images at BESSY II

The quality of materials often depends on the manufacturing process. In casting and welding, for example, the rate at which melts solidify and the resulting microstructure of the alloy is important. With metallic foams as well, it depends on exactly how the foaming process takes place. To understand these processes fully requires fast sensing capability. The fastest 3D tomographic images to date have now been achieved at the BESSY II X-ray source operated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin.

Dr. Francisco Garcia-Moreno and his team have designed a turntable that rotates ultra-stably about its axis at a constant rotational speed. This really depends...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

2018 Work Research Conference

25.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

'Building up' stretchable electronics to be as multipurpose as your smartphone

14.08.2018 | Information Technology

During HIV infection, antibody can block B cells from fighting pathogens

14.08.2018 | Life Sciences

First study on physical properties of giant cancer cells may inform new treatments

14.08.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>