redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Medications currently used to treat high blood pressure may someday also be used to help those suffering from chronic pain, an international team of researchers has discovered.
Experts from King’s College London, pharmaceutical company Pfizer, genomics research firm BGI, and other organizations joined forces on a study seeking new insights about the treatment of chronic pain, which they define as symptoms of discomfort or agony lasting for at least six months.
“Chronic pain is a significant personal and socio-economic burden, with nearly one in five people experiencing it at some time during their lives,” they said in a recent statement. “Current pain treatments have either limited efficacy or significant side effects for many patients. It is urgent for researchers to study the genetic mechanisms of pain for developing new approaches to pain relief.”
Their work, which has been published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Genetics, included testing some 2,500 volunteers to see what their individual pain thresholds were.
Each subject had a heated probe placed on their arms, and were asked to push a button when the burning sensation became too uncomfortable for them to handle. Afterwards, DNA samples from 200 of the most pain sensitive and 200 of the least pain sensitive participants underwent the exome sequencing process.
“The results showed significant different patterns of rare variants on 138 genes including the gene GZMM between the two groups,” the researchers explained. “Additionally, they observed a significant enrichment of these genes on the angiotensin pathway. Angiotensin II is a peptide hormone involved in the control of blood pressure.”
“The study here supports the notion that the angiotensin II pathway plays an important role in pain regulation in human and indicates that genetic variation in the pathway may influence sensitivity to pain,” they added. “Existing drugs that regulate blood pressure may offer new safe methods to control pain.”
Dr. Frances Williams of the King’s College London Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology called the study results “exciting” due to the fact it revealed existing hypertension drugs could ultimately be repurposed in order to help alleviate the symptoms of chronic pain. However, Williams also warns additional research is necessary, even though the preliminary findings are “promising.”
“There are more and more evidence support that rare variants, which were overlooked in genome-wide association study (GWAS), play a very important role in complex disease and traits,” added BGI project manager Xin Jin. “Next-generation sequencing makes it possible to explore these rare variants and will led the next wave of discovery in biomedical research.”