Woman with genetic mutation feels virtually no pain

Alicia Farmer
March 30, 2019

But that's not the case for one pensioner in Scotland; a rare genetic mutation means she experiences little to no pain.

The pensioner only found out when she was 65 and sought treatment for an issue with her hip which turned out to involve severe joint degeneration although she had experienced no pain. Not being able to feel pain is nearly unimaginable, but that's the life one woman in Scotland has been living for 66 years.

While she was in the hospital, doctors noticed that Cameron's thumbs had been badly affected by osteoarthritis, and she underwent atrapeziectomy to remove the bone at the base of the thumb.

Wounds also appear to heal more quickly for Cameron than other people, another characteristic potentially tied to her genetics.

The first mutation lessened the activity of a gene called FAAH, which is central to regulating pain sensation, mood and memory. The FAAH-OUT gene was previously disregarded as "junk" DNA that was not functional; however, animal model studies suggest otherwise.

Doctors identified a genetic mutation in a woman which means she barely feels pain or panic.

Mice without the FAAH gene have reduced pain sensation, enhanced wound healing, and lower levels of anxiety and fear, the researchers noted.

Intrigued, Cameron's doctors sent her to pain specialists at University College London, who took a closer look at her DNA, along with that of her mother, son and daughter.

Now scientists believe these mutations prevent Cameron from feeling pain and anxiety and cause her to heal faster, be more positive and be more forgetful.

A 71-year-old woman feels nearly no pain and does not have any fear because of a gene mutation, researchers have found Jo Cameron, 71, sometimes burns or cuts herself and she will not notice until she sees the scar or blood.

The woman tells researchers she has never needed painkillers after surgery such as dental procedures. She claims that in the past she only realised she had burned herself on the stove because she could smell burning flesh, not because it hurt.

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The researchers note that Cameron is "talkative and happy with an optimistic outlook" and, furthermore, when she took a psychological questionnaire created to rate levels of anxiety, she received the lowest score.

Researchers hope their findings might one day contribute to clinical research for postoperative pain, wound healing, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and potentially chronic pain.

The pensioner also reported memory lapses throughout life such as forgetting words or keys, which has previously been associated with enhanced endocannabinoid signalling.

With this new discovery, scientists now believe that targeting the FAAH-OUT gene could change the game in terms of pain prevention.

"I would be elated if any research into my own genetics could help other people who are suffering", Cameron said in a statement.

The study was published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia.

"We would encourage anyone who does not experience pain to come forward".

Half of patients recovering from surgery still experience moderate to severe pain, despite modern painkillers. "I don't get the alarm system everyone else gets".

"The implications for these findings are vast", remarked Dr Devjit Srivastava, a consultant in anesthesia and pain medicine at a hospital in northern Scotland who first treated the woman, said in a statement.

"We hope this could help the 330 million patients who undergo surgery globally every year".

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