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Glenn Nichols, surrounded by his hospice team. The author is in yellow.

Genetic Linkage

No Pain and Extreme Pain From One Gene

April 21, 2016

Tags: pain, sodium channel, SCN9A

Sensory neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells from patients with "burning man syndrome"
The family from northern Pakistan is one of the strangest to appear in the scientific literature. At its center is a 10-year-old, a street performer who walked on hot coals and inserted daggers through his arms before astonished crowds – feeling absolutely no pain. He died at age 13 from jumping off of a roof, considering himself impervious to all injury.

I’ve included this story in my textbooks for so long that I recently began to wonder if I’d been perpetuating an urban legend. Then a study in this week’s Science Translational Medicine led me back to the Pakistani boy. He was real. And it turns out that different mutations in the same gene can cause complete absence of pain, or attacks of pain so severe that sufferers compare the sensation to dipping one’s feet into hot lava. In these extremes lie clues to developing new painkillers. (more…)

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