New research opens the way towards safer and more effective treatments for neuropathic pain.

More than one in four patients with diabetes suffer from chronic nerve pain, or what’s known as diabetic painful neuropathy, which greatly impairs the quality of their life

Depending on which general population study you consult, the prevalence of neuropathic pain is estimated to go from 3% to over 12% of the population.

Specific targeting of microRNA-21 may be the most effective neuropathic pain treatmentClick To Tweet

Many people suffer from neuropathic pain, against which available treatments (opioids and antiepileptic drugs) are either not effective or come with too many side effects. Opioids are severely addictive, and antiepileptics cause unpleasant side effects such as severe nausea, weight gain, and fatigue.

But now, experiments on mice, conducted by a British team, may pave the way for novel approach in treating neuropathic pain.

Neuropathic Pain, a Complex Chronic Condition

The term neuropathic pain, also known as nerve pain, can be caused by the injury, the irritation, or the dysfunction in the central or peripheral nervous system, such as sensory or motor nerves.

At the origin of often intense and chronic pain, neuropathy often causes insomnia and disrupts everyday life. This, in turn, increases the patient’s sensitivity to pain.

Neuropathic pain can be manifested by electric shocks, tingling, burning sensations, or cold sensations that are all equally painful.

In the long run, neuropathic pain patients can become irritable and sometimes even aggressive. Consequently, suffering from this type of pain often affects familial and professional bonds.

The management of neuropathy takes into consideration the underlying condition: diabetic neuropathy, cancer neuropathy, HIV neuropathy, post-traumatic neuropathy, and many other types.

For diabetic neuropathy, for example, treatment protocol necessarily involves a balancing of the blood sugar level.

For other sources of neuropathic pain, doctors often prescribe opioids or antiepileptics, or a combination of the two, to relieve chronic pain caused my previous physical trauma such as a car accident or amputation.

What’s the Problem With Current Drugs for Neuropathic Pain?

However these two widely used, and only available, drugs that are more or less effective, have some serious drawbacks.

Opioids are highly addictive and over-prescribed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that while over 15 years (1999-2014) sales of prescription opioids in the U.S. have quadrupled, “there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain” despite a correlative increase in opioid overdose deaths.

On the other hand, antiepileptic drugs, though not addictive, they often come with a slew of undesirable side effects that can have life-altering impact, and this is an aspect of pain management that can’t be neglected.

Most common side effects associated with antiepileptics are fatigue, nausea, drowsiness, weight gain or loss, and depression.

A Breakthrough for Neuropathic Pain Management

Now, thanks to new research from King’s College London, a previously unknown mechanism in neuropathic pain that opens the way to a new treatment method, more effective and safer than the above-discussed drugs currently in use.

Working on mice, KCL researchers have discovered the cellular process that communicates neuropathic pain to the brain’s neurons.

When researchers blocked the action of special biological particles, the microRNA-21 involved in this mechanism, mice didn’t exhibit signs of neuropathic pain.

“If new treatments based on the findings of this study, targeting microRNA-21, could be designed for patients with neuropathic pain,” said Marzia Malcangio, Professor at King’s College London, “this could provide a brand new avenue for drug treatment. Our next steps are to explore whether the same mechanism applies to other chronic pain conditions.’

Researchers published the findings of their study in Nature Communications.

Read More: 4 Ways AI Improves Medicine

Do you know anyone with neuropathic pain? What are the most effective treatments you’ve heard of? 

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