A newly discovered molecule by a team of researchers at Duke University in North Carolina could be promising for the future of pain-management and also itching. The new antibody works by targeting voltage-sensitive sodium channels in the cell membrane of neurons. These voltage-sensitive sodium channels control the flow of sodium ions through the neuron’s membrane. These channels open and close by responding to the electric current or action potential of the cells. What has been identified is that a particular type of sodium channel, known as Nav1.7 is responsible for sensing pain.
This is certainly a promising discovery and the researchers are hoping to attract attention from pharmaceutical companies who could take the research further by helping organize clinical trials and creating a medical delivery mechanism. Whilst we know that current pain medications, predominantly opiates, are highly addictive, have escalating tolerance issues, and affect the body and brains of patients greatly – the promise of something different with the potential for little side-effects could be a huge game-changer in the pain-management arena.
There is no doubt that the need for different and alternative pain-management medications has never been greater. Approximately 100 million Americans suffer from some kind of chronic pain illness – that’s basically almost 1 in 3 people in the United States that is suffering due to pain. Imagine being able to mitigate or take away that suffering with a medication that has little or no side effects and is potentially much safer than opiate-based pain medication. Not only would quality of life improve for millions of people, but the broader effect of this would be far greater than we would normally consider. Think about the changes in the productivity of society, the potential for improvement in the economic infrastructure of the country, the improvements in family and social spheres. The positive impacts would be much greater than just reductions in pain-management and suffering from pain.
The other important consideration is that the researchers did not mention the potential for addiction or addictive properties with this discovery. This is not to say that there aren’t any addictive elements associated with this potential new discovery; however the mechanism for the blocking of the pain varies greatly to how an opiate-agonist acts in reducing pain. Much of the problems associated with opiate-based drugs for pain-management are their effect on brain chemicals – including dopamine and neurotransmitters. If this new molecule does not interfere or affect the brain’s chemistry, than surely this would be an improvement on the efficacy of this future medicine when compared with the use of opiates.