Designer Pain Relief
Imagine entering a hospital for surgery, confident your recovery would be assisted by drugs designed specifically to relieve your pain. Not a standard dosage calculated by body weight-disregarding your age, sex, or pain threshold. But a regimen of pain-relieving therapy calculated just for you.
Sound too good to be true? Not really. The era of designer painkillers may sound like science fiction, but it's fast approaching. In this new universe of individualized drug therapy, designer painkillers would be based on each patient's genetic markers. And on the specific environmental factors that triggered that patient's reaction to pain. The concept was born less than a decade ago, when Jeffrey Mogil and colleagues identified sex-specific genetic circuitry that governs the way males and females respond to pain.
The groundbreaking discovery-since confirmed by other scientists-opened a whole new field. Now researchers are exploring the different ways that pain affects men and women. Scientists have long known that when asked to plunge an arm into ice-cold water, some people have no trouble leaving it there for three minutes. Others can't stand the discomfort for even one minute. A standard dosage of morphine relieves the pain of most patients. But for 20 percent of the population, even a high dose is ineffective.
Up until now, this type of reaction was mostly a mystery. Mogil's research is beginning to provide the reasons for those different responses, which often vary by gender. Following his initial breakthrough, Mogil has been examining the genetic bases and environmental influences that combine to govern reactions to pain. At a minimum, pinpointing relevant genes can help doctors tailor dosages of drugs to each patient's needs. At best, Mogil's work may lead to new drugs providing life-saving pain relief, as anyone living with chronically debilitating conditions such as arthritis or ruptured discs can attest.
The research chair at McGill University will not only help to consolidate Montreal's reputation as a leading centre for pain research, it will secure Mogil's return to Canada from the United States. Ultimately, it will increase Canada's competitive advantage in this promising new field of research.