Scientists developing way to “see” pain in the body

Posted: December 15, 2013 by Wildcat in Uncategorized

See on Scoop.itThe future of medicine and health

Sci­en­tists are hop­ing a new tech­nique will let them “see” pain in the bod­ies of hurt­ing peo­ple, so doc­tors won’t have to rely solely on pa­tients’ some­times un­clear ac­counts of their own pain.

Past re­search has shown a link be­tween pain and a cer­tain kind of mol­e­cule in the body, called a so­di­um chan­nel—a pro­tein that helps nerve cells trans­mit pain and oth­er sensa­t­ions to the brain. Cer­tain types of so­di­um chan­nel are over-pro­duced at the site of an in­ju­ry. So re­search­ers set out to de­vel­op a way to make the re­sult­ing over-concentra­t­ions of so­di­um chan­nels vis­i­ble in scan­ning im­ages.

Cur­rent ways to di­ag­nose pain bas­ic­ally in­volve ask­ing the pa­tient if some­thing hurts. This can lead doc­tors astray for a va­ri­e­ty of rea­sons, in­clud­ing if a pa­tient can’t com­mu­ni­cate well or does­n’t want to talk about the pain. It can al­so be hard to tell how well a treat­ment is really work­ing. 

No ex­ist­ing meth­od can meas­ure pain in­tens­ity ob­jec­tively or help physi­cians pin­point where the pain is, said Sandip Biswal of Stan­ford Uni­vers­ity in Cal­i­for­nia and col­leagues, who de­scribed their new tech­nique Nov. 21 on­line in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal So­ci­e­ty. 

Biswal and col­leagues tested the tech­nique in rats.

They used an ex­ist­ing scan­ning meth­od known as pos­i­tron emis­sion to­mog­ra­phy (PET) scan, which uses a harm­less ra­di­o­ac­t­ive sub­stance called a trac­er to look for dis­ease in the body. They al­so turned to a small mol­e­cule called sax­i­toxin, pro­duced nat­u­rally by cer­tain types of mi­cro­scop­ic ma­rine crea­tures, and at­tached a sig­nal to it so they could trace it by PET im­ag­ing.

When the re­search­ers in­jected the mol­e­cule in­to rats, of­ten a stand-in for hu­mans in lab tests, they saw that the mol­e­cule ac­cu­mu­lat­ed where the rats had nerve dam­age. The rats did­n’t show signs of tox­ic side ef­fects, the sci­en­tists said, adding that the work is one of the first at­tempts to mark these so­di­um chan­nels in a liv­ing an­i­mal.

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