Woman Has Rare Genetic Mutation That Makes Her Not Feel Pain

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Imagine how your life would be if you couldn’t feel pain. Sounds pretty wild – something that might only be reserved for superheroes in the comic books. But real life sometimes turns out to be crazier than you think. A study on a 71-year old Scottish woman shows she has a rare genetic “superpower” that prevents her from feeling pain.

Jo Cameron has had plenty of scrapes, bumps, bruises, and sprains, but her life has been mainly pain free. Cameron first became aware of her strange condition in her mid-sixties after seeking out treatment for two injuries, one involving her hand and the other her hip, both of which are known to be excruciating.

However, her physician, Dr. Devjit Srivastava, was thoroughly surprised when she reported little discomfort, and did not ask for painkillers. Dr. Srivastava also noted that her injuries tended to heal abnormally quickly. Perplexed by these findings, he referred her case to scientists who identified a gene mutation that is the cause of her feeling little to no pain.

The study, published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia, has been passed along to scientists at the University College London and the University of Oxford, who hope to use this to find new treatments for chronic pain and anxiety disorders.

The study authors write, “She reported numerous burns and cuts without pain, often smelling her burning flesh before noticing any injury, and these wounds healed quickly with little or no residual scar.” They even go on to report that Cameron is able to eat Scotch bonnet chili pepper without any discomfort.

The mutation that was found is found in a region of DNA called FAAH-OUT, which was previously assumed as being junk DNA. This gene is known to be associated with pain sensation, mood, and memory. The gene controls an enzyme called FAAH, which typically breaks down what’s known as the “bliss molecule.” However, the mutation causes less of the FAAH to be produced, allowing for more the bliss molecule to hang around and improve a person’s overall mood.

This research has been corroborated with research using mice who have the FAAH gene. Experiments have shown these mice have reduced pain sensation, accelerated healing, and reduced anxiety. All of these characteristics are shared with Cameron, who has reported as being an eternal optimist and was given a very low score on the common anxiety scale.

Going forward, these fascinating findings will be used to develop and contribute to clinical research in treating a variety of different ailments. Cameron is on record saying she would be happy if research into her strange genetic mutations “could help people who are suffering.”  

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