Unpleasant as it is, pain serves an important function by telling us that something is wrong. But for people suffering from chronic pain conditions, the message is blaring constantly, and conventional painkillers aren’t all that effective. Now, a new hope for relief might have been found in the strange case of an Italian family, who all have a genetic mutation that makes them feel almost no pain at all.
The Marsili family are afflicted with a type of rare condition known as congenital analgesia or congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP), which means they don’t feel pain as strongly as the average person. In some cases CIP-affected people grow up having never felt pain in their lives, and while that sounds like a good deal, it can be a huge problem. Anxious parents have to hover far more aggressively over a fearless child who never learnt the hard way not to touch a hot stovetop, and things like appendicitis, normally forewarned with severe pain, can go undiagnosed until the appendix actually bursts.
The six members of the Marsili family have a form of CIP so unique the condition has been named Marsili syndrome. A research team, lead by scientists at University College London (UCL), have conducted a genetic study into the family to determine the genetic root of the condition, how insensitive the family is to different types of pain, and whether the findings can be used to develop a new treatment for chronic pain.