Pain

Reporter: Bryan Seymour

You may not think chronic pain affects you, but it does affect one in five Australians' ability to work every year. In fact thirty-six and half million working days are lost each year due to chronic severe pain, costing us about 5.1 billion dollars.

But with new and effective means of pain treatment and management, Professor Michael Cousins, head of the Pain Management and Research Institute at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital, believes that can be halved. "We now have a new drug, that was initially identified by our colleagues at the University of Queensland and is now being refined by us, in collaboration with them and the University College London", Professor Cousins said.

It's a major breakthrough, made possible by professor cousins' team, who for the first time, are mapping the body's pain pathway. When pain is triggered in a muscle or the skin, the pain signal travels directly to the spinal nerve -- the gateway where the signal is allowed to travel up the spinal cord into key areas of the brain -- triggering glands and tissue which cause reactions ranging from mild discomfort to extreme pain. The new drug attacks the pain signal where it really counts, as it hits the spinal nerve, and in effect, it neutralizes the pain before it crosses the blood brain barrier.

It is truly, a medical first. "We actually have a drug that works on one of these key sodium channels and is now running through the early stages of development in the laboratory. We hope to get it into patients sometime in the next year or so", Professor Cousins said.

It's so new, it doesn't even have a name, but it's developers can already say it definitely works and it has no toxic side effects. Unlike current drugs, it won't affect the heart or the brain -- It simply takes away the pain.

Mother of two Jane Farmer got whiplash in a car accident five years ago and ever since she's been in excruciating pain. "I was at rock bottom and I just felt that there was nowhere else to go", she said. After having screws put in her neck, Jane didn't want any more surgery or drugs, so Professor Cousins treated her -- with something you'll find hard to believe. She has learnt to simply ignore the pain.

Thanks to the Institute's Adapt Program, Jane now has her chronic pain under control and has back, a happy, healthy, active life. "It's about choice", Jane said.

Just three months ago, Jamie Street couldn't walk and hadn't worked for nearly two years. His pathway to pain was the simple act of lifting a box. The father of three tried everything to banish the pain, but nothing worked. "I was on a cocktail of pretty much many and varied medications -- morphine was one of them, valium", Jamie said.

Now, the Pain Institute has taught Jamie how to use his leg again and to control his pain. He's working part time and, more importantly, enjoying his family for the first time in years. "Its pretty much given me life back", he said.

Professor Cousins is also behind a new treatment for migraines, which some media outlets are hyping as a cure. It involves surgery to place electrodes on the nerves at the back of the neck. But in reality, "It's not a cure for migraine sufferers, but it may be a very good treatment for some migraine sufferers." Sadly only a tiny per cent. The real story is the power of the mind and the promise of a revolutionary new drug that closes the gate on the pain pathway.

If you'd like further information or you can help with donations for the Institute, call 1800 664 937 or head to our website Pain management research institute: http://www.pmri.med.usyd.edu.au/

General enquiries:

Helen Johnston, PA to Professor Cousins, Department and Anaesthesia and Pain Management.

Phone: +61 (0)2 9926 8423

Fax: +61 (0)2 9906 4079

Hmjohnst@nsccahs.health.nsw.gov.au

To make appointments:

Pain management & research centre

Level 9, main block

Royal North Shore Hospital

St Leonards, nsw 2065

Phone: +61 (0)2 9926 7676