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Womans feels physical pain for first time at 39

A woman who was born without the ability to feel physical pain has been hurt for the first time, and seemed to enjoy it, according to a report in a scientific journal.

A group of scientists treated the 39-year-old woman, who has a rare genetic anomaly, with a drug called naloxone, which can reverse the effects of opioid overdoses. They then burned her with a laser, giving her the first taste of a sensation most people have known all their lives.

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"I think she quite enjoyed the experiment," John Wood, a professor at University College, London and one of the authors on the paper told the New Scientist.

The researchers said the development might help create treatments for people unable to feel pain, or better treatments for pain, but the drug could have long term side effects.

The team of scientists published their research today in the journal Nature Communications.

The inability to feel pain is the result of a rare genetic mutation that leaves some people without channels — called Nav1.7 channels— that help the nerves to communicate pain signals to the brain. It had been previously believed that the lack of those channels alone prevented the sensation of pain.

Researchers on the University College study noticed that mice born without the channels produce more natural painkillers, in the form of opioid peptides. They hypothesized that the higher levels of opioids seen in people without Nav1.7 channels could also be playing a role in their insensitivity to pain. By inhibiting the opioids with naloxone, they were able to restore the sensation of pain to both the mice and to the woman.

While the inability to feel pain might seem like some kind of comic book super power, it can make life dangerous for the few people who suffer from it. Babies born with the conditions have been known to chew their fingers or lips, or risk more harm from falls and other accidents, according The New Scientist.

Read the article in The New Scientist.