According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, one in four people who receive an opioid prescription for chronic, noncancer pain struggle with opioid dependence. This fact has pushed both physicians and patients alike to explore other non-opioid treatments and therapies.
A recent study conducted by Stanford Medicine researchers has also made new headway in this space– discovering a possible new pain treatment that does not involve opioids.
The team specifically targeted the region of a well-known pain receptor, and in doing so, they were successful in reducing pain sensitivity in mice without impacting other receptor functions.
The inspiration for this study also came from one unsuspecting animal: chickens.
Chicken farmers are aware that mice and squirrels will not eat any chicken feed that’s laced with capsaicin– which is actually the chemical that makes chili peppers spicy.
When consumed by mammals, capsaicin promotes a burning sensation by activating a pain receptor. Among most aviary species, though, capsaicin has little to no effect.
“It turns out that birds are naturally resistant to capsaicin,” explained Eric Gross, an associate professor of anesthesiology, pain, and perioperative medicine.
Upon learning this, Gross began to wonder if humans could also have a genetic variant that would render the receptor– known as TRPV1– more resistant to pain.
And in a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the researchers successfully identified a distinct genetic variant of TRPV1 that is able to reduce human pain sensitivity. Plus, despite this variant being extremely rare, the researchers were still able to replicate the altered gene’s effects to create a custom drug.
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