To deliver the gene, he packaged it inside a virus called sc-rAAV8 that was altered to be harmless. He tested it in rats that are sensitive to even mild pressure. To bypass the brain—and potential cognitive side effects— Beutler delivered the gene by injecting it into the fluid surrounding nerves of the spinal cord. He also tagged the gene with a protein that glows fluorescent green.
The green glow showed Beutler that the genes reached the specific nerve cells he was targeting. The rats’ nerve cells then duplicated the gene. After one month, the gene had produced enough endorphins in the nerve cells to relieve pain in the rats. The animals showed no signs of pain for three months—the length of the experiment. This figure shows nerve cells of untreated and treated rats. The glowing green in the image on the right represents the pain killing genes inside the nerve cells.
Beutler cautions that clinical trials in people are years away, but he says his dream would be to offer a long-lasting alternative to patients who currently do not get sufficient pain relief. Beutler hopes that one day the treatment can be done by spinal tap as a bedside procedure.
|Nerve cells before and after treatment.|
Pain killing genes appear green.
image: Andreas Beutler
In the meantime, Bruckenthal’s message to those with chronic pain is: "Don’t give up." She encourages people to go to pain specialists because they can offer a wide range of therapies including medications, physical therapy and cognitive behavioral therapies. One of the ways Sweet copes with pain is to reach out to others. She started a foundation offering free services for those affected by breast cancer, called Friends For Life.
PUBLICATION: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, December 11, 2007
AUTHORS: Benjamin Storek, Matthias Reinhardt, Cheng Wang, William G. M. Janssen, Nina M. Harder, Michaela S. Banck, John H. Morrison, and Andreas S. Beutler
RESEARCH FUNDED BY: Neurological Disorders and Stroke, American Society of Clinical Oncology, G&P Foundation and T. J. Martell Foundation