The discovery of a new pain organ located under the skin can be beneficial, according to doctors. It can help analyze and understand chemotherapy pain and other forms of chronic pain.
Researchers in the Karolina Institute in Sweden should be credited for the discovery of this new organ.
Patrik Ernfors, Ph.D. Professor of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics at the Karolinska Institute is the chief investigator of the study. He and his team named the new organ the nociceptive glio-neural complex. The name represents the organ’s cellular structure and its functions.
The research appears in the journal Science.
The new organ’s appearance is a crisscrossed web of Schwann cells with vine-like extensions. Located right under the surface of the skin, the extensions, coil around the ends of the pain-sensing cells.
The role of the Schwann cells was found through testing on mice by the researchers.
The researchers were not even looking for a new sensory organ. Hence, when they found it, it was a surprise.
Other questions were being answered when scientists realized that the nerves found under the skin were wrapped in these new cells. The researchers had a suspicion that these mystery cells could detect pain; hence, they designed genetic models to test this theory. The results showed that the stimulation of the glia cells ended with a pain response.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is a phenomenon that plagues around 100 million Americans, according to a 2011 study. Data shows that chronic pain is more prevalent than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease collectively.
Furthermore, it is a tremendous economic strain. Costs can go up to $635 billion a year, including treatment and productivity loss.
Despite this, very little research was conducted to find out more about this ailment.
Why is the Discovery of the New ‘Pain Organ’ So Important?
Very little information exists about this ‘chronic pain.’ No information about it is what drove Dr. David Copenhaver, MPH, and chief of the division of pain at the University of California, to this field.
Scientists were aware of the existence of Schwann cells for some time now. The discovery is that these cells and their networks with other cells and tissues were not known to have any relationship with pain.
Does this open new avenues on how pain can be treated? A question that Dr. Copenhaver hopes will be answered with this discovery.
Dr. Copenhaver points out how the discovery can help treat the nerve damage that is suffered by patients of chemotherapy. The patients suffer from severe pain in their hands and feet as if the skin is on fire.
For Dr. Ernfors, more research needs to happen so that the exact dynamics of the Schwann cells and nerves are defined. Their exact relation to chronic pain is not known either, but with more time and effort, research can lead us to it.
However, the research team is hopeful that their work will be able to help with some types of chronic pain and help form the basis of new drugs to relieve pain.