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.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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