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Medical Edge: Researchers make pain discovery

CINCINNATI (Liz Bonis) -- It's a bit of a "touchy subject" you might say, but a new discovery by researchers at the University of Cincinnati could lead to better ways to treat pain syndromes like fibromyalgia and neuropathy.
Hard to believe that what this team of scientists is doing in might make a difference in understanding what you feel.  But when someone holds your hand or puts an arm around you Doctor Jianguo Gu says it's what's called"gentle touch."

Fr. Jianguo Gu, a pain researcher, said, "Like when you hug someone and when you shake hands, and when you touch your baby, so that's gentle touch."
Doctor Gu is a pain researcher who part of a research team that just released a study in The Journal Cell.  His team has been studying cells discovered years ago named after Friedrich Sigmund Merkel, the scientists that found them.  They are now called Merkel Cells. 

"He found those cells are localized, and highly concentrated in the fingertips, and lips and in animals they are in their whiskers," Dr. Gu said.

What Doctor Gu's study just found about these fingertip or Merkel Cells is that you use them on items such as your cell phone each day and they are definitely  linked to surface pain.  Diabetes problems such as neuropathy might lower them.  Cancer treatment or women's pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia might heighten them.

This means two things, we are able to develop drugs to drugs to prevent the loss of touch, or the hypersensitivity to touch.  And number two, we are able to treat certain diseases involved in abnormal touch, like hypersensitivity to touch that cancer patients have that have chemotherapy.

The idea behind this is that then you could use those medications to target one specific area rather then using current  medicines that perhaps dull or target the whole body and often have side effects.  The medications would be based on the idea that when you step on something and think you hit a nerve, maybe instead you really hit a Merkel Cell first.

Funding for this study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.  No word on how soon yet we might have medications that work on the Merkel Cells.

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