Wednesday, June 20, 2007 | Relief for 'bad pain' is possible, researchers say

People who suffer from chronic pain may be able to gain some relief thanks to a discovery that may block pain signals leading to the brain.

University of Calgary scientists have found a way to block 'bad pain' while leaving 'good pain' alone, by manipulating a key protein.

The research, which was conducted on rats, has found a way to intervene in the usual way pain is perceived.

Usually, when an injury is suffered, a nerve is activated and a signal travels up the pain pathway in the spinal cord. When it connects with another nerve leading to the brain, the feeling of pain is communicated. One of the key mechanisms involved in this process is called a calcium channel.

"If you block the activity of these calcium channels, you block the transmission of the pain signals from the first nerve to the second nerve and therefore blocking pain," said Dr. Gerald Zamponi, University of Calgary professor and the Canadian Research Chair of the Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology Research Group.

"The problem that you have is that these calcium channels are also found all over your brain where they do many, many important things. So we have to find a way of selectively eliminating the ones in the pain pathway, but leaving the ones that are in your brain alone. And the work that we've done has identified a way to do that," he told CTV's Canada AM.

The scientific research by the researchers at the University of Calgary has found a way to intervene in this process and to target the proteins that are responsible for what is termed as 'good pain'  and 'bad pain.'

The ability to feel pain is vital as it is a warning and defence mechanism that alerts of injuries or illness.

However, 'bad pain' can be termed as the kind of pain people suffering from diabetes, cancer or nerve damage endure.

"There's very little out there in terms of treatments for people to block this kind of pain," Zamponi said.

"So that's what we're trying to block while maintaining the normal pain sensation that you actually need to survive in this world."

To help address the treatment of bad pain, researchers are teaming with pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs that will target the elimination of 'bad pain.'

Additional research by scientists found that a protein called ROCK -- Rho-associated kinase -- can control neurons in the central nervous system.

With this knowledge, brain activities that occur during epileptic seizures could potentially be reduced.

The results of the studies conducted by the scientists at the University of Calgary were published in the Journal of Neuroscience and Nature Neuroscience.

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