Ouch-B-Gone! Light Based Pain Management Therapy Has Arrived!

We all know that pain is usually the immediate body response to injury and illness. Whether it’s a simple paper cut or a chronic nerve pain, its appearance alerts us that our body is in distress. Unfortunately, for those who suffer from chronic illnesses, constant pain can seriously reduce their quality of life and in some cases be completely debilitating. Current pain management therapy methods for mainstream medicine often include a drug regimen, which can cause resistance to drug therapy and dependency. This has been the impetus for medical researchers to look into new methods of relieving pain, and now they may have found a light-based method for doing just that.

Optogenetics, the use of light to control cells in living tissue, has been getting a lot of attention for its potential applications in both cardiac and neurological disease treatment. It’s precision and effectiveness has attracted the attention of researchers at Stanford who hope to develop a technique for treating pain using optogenetic therapy.

Specimens were modified by injecting a virus directly into nerves that had been engineered to contain opsin-producing DNA. Opsin is a light-sensitive protein usually found in the photoreceptor cells of the retina. It was found that only the nerves that control pain had taken on the opsin proteins. That meant that the nerves that control the level of pain could now be controlled by light. In fact, not only where the nerves photoreceptive but the color of the light used could also intensify or mitigate the pain.

This will help doctors test the effects of new pain medications, and Stanford researchers hope that this can eventually be utilized to treat and relieve pain for those with chronic and debilitating illnesses. Researchers also hope to use new and quicker approaches to get the nerves photosensitive, as using a virus took a considerable amount of time. Additional modified opsin proteins might also help speed-up this process and give medical researchers, even more, precise control over pain sensitivity.



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