She's 71 and has literally never felt pain. Her strange condition could help revolutionize pain management.

Jo Cameron has been pain-free all her life — something many might dub a superpower of sorts.

While other women struggle with the pain that comes along with childbirth, when Cameron gave birth to her two children, she felt only “a tickle.” Later on in life, she didn’t realize she needed to have her hip replaced until she physically couldn’t walk. She also couldn’t tell she had been burned until others smelled burning flesh, and failed to notice cuts until someone else pointed out blood. Spicy foods — such as Scotch bonnet chili peppers — didn’t set her mouth on fire and instead left her with a “pleasant glow.”

Her body also heals more quickly than most, with her injuries rarely resulting in scars.


Image by Hans/Pixabay.

While all this sounds pretty incredible, Cameron didn’t think much of it until around five years ago, after she underwent surgery on her hand. She told her doctor, Dr. Devjit Srivastava, that she wouldn’t need any pain medication during recovery. Obviously, this was an unusual patient request, but after delving into her medical history, he quickly realized she was a special case.

So he sent her to see a team of doctors and researchers focused on how genetics can be used to understand the biology of pain and touch at the University College London’s Molecular Nociception Group. Eventually they wrote a paper, which was published on Thursday in The British Journal of Anaesthesia, on the curious case of Cameron, whose pain-free existence seemed unexplainable.

Though these specialists had worked with several individuals who process pain differently, Cameron’s genetic profile was unique for an individual who couldn’t feel pain.

Eventually they discovered her uniqueness could be explained by the fact that she is missing the front of a gene they have dubbed FAAH-OUT — a gene all us have — but they claim she is the only individual they know about who has this specific genetic mutation.

Image by Public Domain/Pixabay.

“We’ve never come across a patient like this,” John Wood, the head of the Molecular Nociception Group at University College London, revealed to the New York Times.

According to researchers, this mutated gene does more than prevents Cameron from feeling pain. She also can’t feel fear or anxiety, which doctors think have something to do with the gene mutation making her more forgetful.

"It's called the happy gene or forgetful gene. I have been annoying people by being happy and forgetful all my life - I've got an excuse now," she told the BBC.

Jo Cameron believes she inherited the mutation from her late father, who she remembers suffered from little pain as well.

“I can’t remember him needing any painkillers,” she told the New York Times. “I think that’s why I didn’t find it odd.” Since he is no longer living, there is no way to know if he was a carrier. While her daughter and mother do not have the mutation, according to her doctors, her son “has the same microdeletion in FAAH-OUT, but does not have the other mutation that confers reduced FAAH function.” So he’s insensitive to some pain, but not all.

Could Cameron’s extraordinary gene help others manage their pain and anxiety better? Doctors are hopeful, but the road ahead is long.

Researchers hope that further studies will help them design gene therapy, pain intervention methods or anxiety medications, though expect it will take many years and a lot of money before a product will emerge.

“I’m reasonably confident that the lessons we are learning from the genes involved in pain will lead to the development of an entirely new class of pain medications,” Dr. Stephen G. Waxman, a Yale neurologist who was not involved with the paper but has studied the subject matter, told the New York Times.

Image by Steve Buissinne/Pixabay

Considering that painkillers on the market today — especially opioids like oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine and morphine — are incredibly addictive and responsible for tens of thousands of drug overdoses every year, finding a responsible pain cure could save so many lives. And if there are more people like Cameron out there, the likelihood of this mutation resulting in a novel pain treatment system is even higher.

There are lots of unknowns, but scientists have come a long way in their research with genetics in recent years. It will be exciting to see the impact an unusual case like Cameron’s has on medicine in the years to come.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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