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Chronic back pain? Researchers think they can block the culprit gene

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How's your back? If, like many other Canadians you suffer from chronic back pain, you may welcome this science news: Medical researchers believe they've found a way to block the gene responsible for the kind of chronic pain you endure.

University of Cambridge researchers were able to remove the so-called HCN2 gene from pain-sensitive nerves in mice.

"By measuring the speed that the mice withdrew from different types of painful stimuli, the scientists were able to conclude that deleting the HCN2 gene abolished neuropathic pain," reports the BBC.

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That's the name given to the pain that happens when nerves are damaged - and it's notoriously difficult to treat.

In addition to being common to lower back pain, neuropathic pain is also often seen in patients with diabetes and shingles, and in the aftermath of cancer chemotherapy, according to the BBC.

Professor Peter McNaughton, the lead author of the study and the head of the department of pharmacology at the University of Cambridge, told the BBC there was now hope for these patients.

"Individuals suffering from neuropathic pain often have little or no respite because of the lack of effective medications. Our research lays the groundwork for the development of new drugs to treat chronic pain by blocking HCN2."

Acute pain, the kind you'd experience in an injury, was not affected.

Yes, the research is still only on mice. But its implications, especially for those who suffer from chronic back pain in particular, are encouraging.

Canadian researchers have suggested that about nine per cent of the population over 12 years of age suffers from chronic back pain. The pain itself is one thing, but they've also found a correlation between the pain and an increased rate of depression.

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So, how's your back? Until this genetic finding plays out, what's your best treatment? Painkillers? Acupuncture?

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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