Genetic engineering leaves mice impervious to pain.
January 15, 2002 7:18 PM   Subscribe

Genetic engineering leaves mice impervious to pain. By removing a protein called "DREAM", scientists were able to create rodents that didn't mind extreme heat, pressure and inflammation. This could provide hope for those suffering, or a strange removal from the experience of living, and classic human traits like bravery, strength, volition, and empathy, depending on your view.
posted by mdn (23 comments total)
It would probably also dramatically shorten the lifespan of the individual since they would be less likely to notice injuries! Think of how many times pain warns you of danger in a week? Of course, the mice can't tell us if it is replaced by a different, more tolerable sensation which would still provide the information without the autonomous reaction. Hmm, thought provoking...
posted by RevGreg at 7:28 PM on January 15, 2002

This article just introduces the possibility, but people could decide that in the future, rather than depending on pain to keep them from damaging their bodies, they could rely on strength of reason and therefore avoid the experience of pain. But I wonder if this would diminish the human experience in a way.

on preview: yeah, no doubt we would realize our strength of reason doesn't do as good a job of keeping us out of trouble as pain does...
posted by mdn at 7:32 PM on January 15, 2002

PETA will have to take the 'emotional suffering' route with this one.
posted by MrBrett at 7:34 PM on January 15, 2002

You FOOLS! Without pain, you are DOOMED! Doomed to lives of MEANINGLESS happyness! Morality will be destryed, great art and liturature will never again be created, and the human race will go extinct!

Up with pain and down with science!
posted by Flimsy_Parkins at 7:42 PM on January 15, 2002

But mdn, unless I'm misunderstanding you here: they could rely on strength of reason, what would the reason be to eliminate the capability to feel pain? If you are so careful not to get in any potentially damaging situations you wouldn't experience it anyway. It seems to me the only reason to do something like this to a human would be precisely because they would be in potentially damaging situations and couldn't be distracted, which necessity is made clear by the temporary pain reduction / elimination our own bodies provide in such situations, but even then, there are other temporary measures that can be taken.
posted by Nothing at 8:13 PM on January 15, 2002

Let me say as someone with no feeling at all in my right leg.. Ive done a lot of accidental damage over the years.. burns mostly.. the skin on my knee-cap from bumping into things and cuts and abrasions looks like its missing a few layers.. you need to feel or your just going to do this for laughs.
posted by stbalbach at 8:17 PM on January 15, 2002

I find two false presumptions here:

1. Who says empathy is genetic? Stick a newly-conceived baby in a box by himself with enough food and water to sustain life for 20 years. Then, let him loose into society and tell me that he'll be doing things for others until socially trained.

2. What about Buddhists or those with the capability to diminish, if not eliminate, their threshhold for pain? Are they incapable of empathy or altruism?
posted by Mach3avelli at 8:19 PM on January 15, 2002

I agree with the preceding post by Nothing. If you're careful not to get in any potentially damaging situations you'll never experience pain. The "one in five people worldwide [who] live with chronic pain from cancer and other debilitating diseases" must have angered god or something. In any case, it's their fault, and they don't deserve our sympathy.
posted by Flimsy_Parkins at 8:21 PM on January 15, 2002

posted by kv at 8:24 PM on January 15, 2002

These mice would probably have appreciated a little of that genetic engineering:

"The mice were tapped on the head at a pressure Trojanowski described as being less than a bad car crash but more than a bop on the head between battling siblings. "
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:28 PM on January 15, 2002

Cool. I'm gonna be Darkman!
posted by Tacodog at 8:31 PM on January 15, 2002

why don't those researchers pick on someone their own size :(
posted by kv at 8:40 PM on January 15, 2002

Who says empathy is genetic?

Lots of academics dig the genetic altruism theory. Long winded essay here.
posted by skallas at 8:52 PM on January 15, 2002

There's a condition in humans where a person is born incapable of feeling pain. It's exceedingly rare, which is a good thing because they rarely survive to adulthood.

I've seen film of such a person; it was a little girl about age 9. Every night when she comes home from school, her mother does a head-to-toe examination of her body to look for injuries, because this little girl literally would not notice if she were to seriously cut herself, or even if she broke a bone, unless she saw it happen. (No, that wasn't done on camera.)

Pain is there to protect us; people who cannot feel it are in grave danger.

That said, learning this may lead to better temporary treatments for pain, for times when the ability to feel it is no longer important and it simply makes us miserable.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:01 PM on January 15, 2002

Thanks Steven. This thread is suffering from a sever overload of misinformation and nonsense. Let's put it this way:

You need to feel pain to live.

Got it?

I have an even better example than Steven's -- people who are born without the ability to feel pain quickly become cripples. When you sleep, your body automatically rolls over onto your arms, legs, etc., and it is only the subconscious sensation of pain that causes you to roll over. If you don't feel the pain, you end up lying backwards on your arm all night, and over a period of time will eventually ruin it. For an extremely small example of this, think of how your body feels after you spend a drunken night on the couch.


(and by the way, Buddhists can't lessen the experience of pain. What the hell are you talking about?)
posted by tweebiscuit at 9:08 PM on January 15, 2002

Who says empathy is genetic?

wasn't suggesting it was - just that not being able to experience and therefore understand pain might diminish capacity for empathy for other's pain.

What about Buddhists or those with the capability to diminish, if not eliminate, their threshhold for pain? Are they incapable of empathy or altruism?

I think there's a difference between people who study and learn to overcome pain, and people who would have a genetic inability to understand pain.

If you are so careful not to get in any potentially damaging situations you wouldn't experience it anyway.

yeah, that's true - but commonly we don't rely on pain to alert us to problems anymore. I mean, we understand that fire is bad for us; we don't need to feel pain to learn that. Usually when an accident takes place, we see the wound at the same time we feel it - so maybe experiencing the pain is just a sucky side effect, at this point. Of course, for smaller injuries, some kind of sensation would be helpful, but it needn't actually hurt (thought children probably wouldn't be cognitively mature enough to do without it...)
posted by mdn at 9:10 PM on January 15, 2002

Steven, would that be the physical counterpart to a true sociopath?

More on topic: The wife of an acquaintance at work suffered a small stroke a few months ago. She's mostly recovered now, but she's left with the inability to feel any sensation of heat or cold on her hands. Unfortunately, she's a waitress, so she has to wear gloves all the time in order to keep from burning herself on the hot dishes or stoves, otherwise she could burn all the flesh away without noticing. Very odd.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:10 PM on January 15, 2002

Here's a quote from Nietzsche: "You want, if possible - and there is no more insane "if possible" - to abolish suffering. And we? It really seems that we would rather have it higher and worse than ever. Well-being as you understand it - that is no goal, that seems to us an end, a state that soon makes man ridiculous and contemptible - that makes his destruction desirable. The discipline of suffering, of great suffering - do you not know that only this discipline has created all enhancements of man so far?"

Some of you may not LIKE pain and suffering, but as tweebiscuit says, YOU NEED PAIN TO LIVE. People like Bruce Leigh who lead normal lives despite their gentetic inabilty to percieve pain are just freak exeptions, if indeed we stoop to calling them people at all.
posted by Flimsy_Parkins at 9:25 PM on January 15, 2002

Without RESORTING to too much RANDOM capitalIZATION, I'd just like to add that pain may be good and all, but too much pain, or constant, chronic pain (like the kind that I experience, not coincidentally) is NOT good. Not at all. (Or is that meant to be not GOOD? I'm losing track.)

Flimsy_Parkins : You sound to me like someone who has never really experienced intense physical pain, long- or short-term. If I am incorrect in this evaluation, I apologize in advance. But Neitzsche, fer chrissakes? Give me a break.

You don't need pain to live, you need it as a system for assistance in the avoidance and detection of physical injury.

posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:45 PM on January 15, 2002

You know how people who suffer from leprosy lose pieces of their bodies? Fingers are missing; sometimes even parts of their faces. That's not a direct result of the disease. What happens is that leprosy bacteria destroy the peripheral sensory nerves and leaves that part of the body numb. Thereafter, wounds there are not necessarily noticed, and they can become infected and even gangrenous. The loss of body parts comes from secondary infections which the victim doesn't notice because they can't feel pain (or much of anything else) in those areas.

Chronic pain is unpleasant. But complete inability to feel pain will get you killed.

(No, this has nothing whatever to do with being a psychopath. Completely unrelated.)
posted by Steven Den Beste at 9:53 PM on January 15, 2002

What about Buddhists or those with the capability to diminish, if not eliminate, their threshhold for pain? Are they incapable of empathy or altruism?

There is a huge difference between learning to supress an autonomous reaction and never having one in the first place. Much of our learned response to physical harm is based upon the sensory input we get from pain - if you don't have pain in the first place you would need to be taught what was dangerous instead of developing "normal" reactions to such stimuli. Those who educate themselves to resist pain do so only after they have learned automatic response to pain, so they understand the pain/harm link.

(and by the way, Buddhists can't lessen the experience of pain. What the hell are you talking about?)

There is adequate evidence of persons capable of attaining meditative states of mind where they can tolerate extreme amounts of pain, that's what the hell he's talking about! ;-)
posted by RevGreg at 11:37 PM on January 15, 2002

Flimsy_Parkins: In any case, it's their fault, and they don't deserve our sympathy.

Please, I did not say that, nor would I. I was responding to another poster and following their line of reasoning that a person could easily live with an inability to feel pain by being extremely careful, which I disagreed with though I expressed it inarticulately. What was being discussed, for some reason*, was the elimination of pain in non-chronically affected individuals, people who do not live with pain on a daily basis, which is something I believe is a very, very stupid idea.

mach3avelli: There is evidence that extreme pain can be tolerated and possibly eliminated from conscious perception, but this is more akin to painkillers than genetic manipulation to remove the ability to feel pain entirely. The person meditating chooses to attain this state and can choose to leave it.

*It seems that this thread started off a little skewed because the researchers are indeed talking about developing treatments for chronically affected individuals, a very worthy goal, and not breeding a pain-impervious race of humans which is the condition being denounced by most of the posters here, including myself in my previous comment.
posted by Nothing at 1:19 AM on January 16, 2002

"Chronic pain is unpleasant. "

Not always merely "unpleasant". For some people, with severe chronic pain life is a waking nightmare. They don't have to worry about accidentally injuring themselves, because they are never able to go anywhere, or do anything.

The total removal of acute pain response also takes away chronic pain response. This will inevitably lead to pressure sores, ulcers, gangrene, and infected wounds. These people would require 24/24 nursing care.

"The protein's full name is Downstream Regulatory Element Antagonistic Modulator. "

This quote is interesting, because it would seem to imply that the scientists may be able to "modulate" pain responses, rather than simply switching them off. People's pain levels would decrease, but not be eliminated altogether.

If the system is indeed 'analogue', rather than 'digital', it would be a huge breakthrough in pain management.
posted by lucien at 1:27 AM on January 16, 2002

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