Gene Therapy an Alternative to Assisted Suicide for Pain

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Nov 29, 2011   |   2:23PM   |   Washington, DC

Chronic pain is a major problem for many and some pain does not respond to traditional pain medications or some people cannot tolerate the side effects. The culture of death has their solution for those suffering from chronic intractable pain: assisted suicide.
Researchers at the University of Michigan have another more hopeful approach: gene therapy.  They have engineered a herpes virus to deliver the gene that encodes for a natural pain killer.  This virus migrates to the nerves and makes the nerve cells produce the pain killer for a month to six weeks.  Researchers think they can extend this effect for up to 6 months.  From The Guardian:

Doctors in the US have begun a clinical trial of a gene therapy that uses the body’s natural painkillers to bring relief to patients who cannot be helped with conventional drugs. They hope that a single injection could provide relief for up to six months in people whose pain is so severe that morphine and other frontline drugs have little effect or cannot be used because of their side-effects.

The trial was launched after a pilot study this year of people with intractable cancer pain showed the therapy was safe. The therapy smuggles a gene into sensitive nerves beneath the skin that makes the cells release natural chemicals that alleviate pain.

Dr David Fink, who is leading the research at the University of Michigan, said that the trial was the first to investigate if the technique was effective in humans.

“We have started with people who are in pain from terminal cancer, but the approach is applicable for intractable pain from inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis of the hip and any number of other situations,” he said….

Fink reported a small trial to investigate the safety of the treatment in April this year. Ten patients with intractable pain were given injections. Those who received high doses reported feeling less pain than those who had medium doses. Those who had low-dose injections felt no benefit.

The latest trial will compare tens of patients who have the injections with a control group that receives a placebo jab. Fink, who outlined the trial at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, expects to have results at the end of the year.

This is fantastic news and another example of ethical genetic engineering.  Of course the trial could not possibly progress fast enough for those suffering from chronic pain right now.  Until novel treatments such as these are available to all, those with chronic pain can be their own advocate.  Dr. Eric Chevlan and Wesley J. Smith have written a book about how to get proper pain control called Power Over Pain: How to Get the Pain Control You Need.  From cancer to headaches, it is a valuable resource for anyone who struggles with chronic pain. Note: Rebecca Taylor is a clinical laboratory specialist in molecular biology, and a practicing pro-life Catholic who writes at the bioethics blog Mary Meets Dolly. She has been writing and speaking about Catholicism and biotechnology for five years and has been interviewed on EWTN radio on topics from stem cell research and cloning to voting pro-life. Taylor has a B.S. in Biochemistry from University of San Francisco with a national certification in clinical Molecular Biology MB (ASCP).