Unable to feel pain, problems with breathing, and digestion – these are just some of the difficulties sustained by sufferers with the genetic disease of the nervous system familial dysautonomia (FD). FD and other conditions involving nociceptors [pain-sensing neurons] are difficult to study in a laboratory, as extracting neurons from a person with a particular condition is complex. This has led scientists to develop a method of making nociceptors using other cells from a patient’s body. A specific cocktail of genes can transform cells from the connective tissue called fibroblasts into nociceptors like the one pictured. Growing nociceptors in this way from people with FD or other pain conditions allows involved genes and drug treatments to be studied. The nociceptors made from fibroblasts also showed normal neuronal responses, such as becoming more sensitive in response to pain. This approach already looks promising as an aid to understanding chronic pain.
Written by Esther Redhouse White
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