A New Hope and An Old Hope Too
One of the worst consequences of chronic pain is hopelessness. Dealing with pain day after day and night after sleepless night leaves people hopeless. After years of visiting doctors, chiropractors, therapists and psychologists the pain persists and hope for a “normal” life evaporates. The future is bleak for those who suffer from chronic pain, but recently there has been some promising research, which I believe offers new hope to those who are suffering from the very worst chronic pains. I would like to share an article and my thoughts on the potential for a new pain treatment to give hope to those who have become hopeless. In the words of Winston Churchill: “never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
Here is a link to the article “How a single gene could become a volume knob for human suffering”:https://www.wired.com/2017/04/the-cure-for-pain/
I encourage you to click the above link and read the full article for yourself, but I also want to share my thoughts with you. The article profiles two individuals on the opposite ends of the pain spectrum. The first has congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP) and is unable to experience pain in the way normal humans do. As a result he is prone to injury. The man in the article with CIP is 36 years old, but typically patients who have this condition don’t live into their reproductive years, which helps account for the incredible rarity of the disease. The second individual suffers from a severe pain syndrome called erythromelalgia, but which is better described as “Man on Fire” syndrome. For this woman almost every sensation is painful. Warmth feels like fire and the lightest touch of clothing “feels like a blowtorch against her skin”. These two disease states are related by mutations to the same gene: SCN9A. The gene codes for a specific sodium ion channel known as Nav1.7.
So now I have thrown several difficult medical terms or acronyms at you and this may be the point where you are ready to give in and go watch TV instead of reading on, but again I quote Churchill: “Don’t give in!”. Let’s review quickly. Two disease states: congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP) and erythromelalgia or Man on Fire syndrome. One gene SCN9A and the sodium channel associated with it Nav1.7. So the same gene, encoding the same sodium channel can lead to an absence of pain perception or the sense that your body is being engulfed by flames. So how is it that this one gene and one ion channel can be the cause of two such diametrically opposed disease states? The answer is that the Nav1.7 ion channel is a crucial factor in how we experience pain. In the CIP patient a mutation of the Nav1.7 ion channel prevents the channel from opening up and allowing sodium ions to pass through and subsequently delivering a painful signal to the brain. In the erythromelalgia patient the ion channel is far too responsive and the slightest stimulation causes the channel to open creating a severe burning pain sensation. In normal people the Nav1.7 ion channel is only activated by painful stimuli like putting your hand down on a burning hot surface. If we can create a drug which blocks the Nav1.7 ion channel then we should be able to block pain transmission without the side effects of opioids. Unfortunately, drugs always have unintended side effects and if a drug is eventually created to block pain people who take the drug may be prone to self injury. Also the Nav1.7 ion channel is closely related to several other ion channels which perform very important functions such as ensuring the conduction of your heartbeat. Nonetheless, we are gaining a greater understanding of the intricacies of our body’s perception of pain and we are coming closer to new treatments every day. There is hope for those suffering from severe pain.
Now to address the old hope in the title of this blog. When you read the news today it is increasingly difficult to have much hope in our future. We are told that we are already on a path of global warming that will cause the melting of the icecaps, rising seas, more severe hurricanes and tornadoes, and all this is if we stop driving our gas guzzlers today, which we all know isn’t going to happen. In addition, there is the constant threat of terrorism and now the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, China, or Russia seems to be more possible every day, but even if all of that is just a bunch of paranoia we know for sure that someday the sun itself will begin to burnout and it will turn into a red giant which will engulf our planet in flame. No worries though because everyone who ever reads this will long before have died of any one of the many maladies which affects the human race. If not heart disease then cancer, or kidney failure or maybe an automobile accident. As we all know the only two certainties of life are “death and taxes”. That is my future and it is yours too and it isn’t very hopeful, and yet we can all have hope. For me all my hope ultimately rests with the promises of Christ. Romans 5:1-8 speaks of the hope we have through Jesus Christ. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
The cross which was an instrument of almost unimaginable pain, where Christ died for a worthless sinner like me is my source of hope for a world where pain will no longer be needed and will not exist. Revelation 21 speaks of a new heaven and a new earth and in verse four it says “He (Jesus) will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away”. I have Christ and I will not give in to despair, never, never, never.