71-year-old Jo Cameron from Whitebridge has lived a pain-free life because of a rare genetic mutation that only affects one in several million.
Mrs. Cameron first caught the attention of scientists when doctors had to coax her into taking medicine after she underwent a hip replacement for severe arthritis.
She also said she only notices she’s burning herself only when she smells burning flesh. There was a time when she went days without realizing her arm was broken.
It turned out that the 71-year-old has two DNA mutations that stop her from feeling any pain. Scientists hope she will lead to the development of new painkillers.
The genetic test was carried out by researchers at University College London.
Dr. James Cox, a senior lecturer in mammalian sensory genetics, said: “We found this woman has a particular genotype that reduces activity of a gene already considered to be a possible target for pain and anxiety treatments.
“Now that we are uncovering how this newly-identified gene works, we hope to make further progress on new treatment targets.”
Speaking of her incredibly rare condition, Mrs. Cameron said: “When I was eight, I broke my arm roller-skating and didn’t realize.
“It was three days later that my mother noticed it was hanging strangely.
“I am forever burning myself on our oven but only notice when I smell the burning flesh. I cut myself and don’t realize until I see the blood.”
She only realized her condition was unusual when she sought treatment after her hip gave away. She was sent home three times because of her lack of pain but an X-ray revealed her hip had ‘almost disintegrated.’
It turned out the pensioner was suffering from severe osteoarthritis, which includes painful and stiff joints as main symptoms.
After a year, she underwent a trapeziectomy on her right thumb. The surgery involved removing a small bone at the base of the thumb. She only complained of deterioration and deformity but reported no pain.
Dr. Devjit Srivastava, a consultant in anesthesia and pain medicine at Raigmore Hospital, diagnosed Mrs. Cameron with pain insensitivity.
She said: “I had no idea until a few years ago there was anything that unusual about how little pain I feel – I just thought it was normal.”
“My advice to other women was childbirth is not as bad as you think it is, it just feels strange but does not really hurt,” Mrs, Cameron said.
“I didn’t realise that would not be the case and for me it was not the wrong advice, because that was my experience.”
Aside from her immunity to pain, Mrs. Cameron also shared she never panics. She stayed calm when her vehicle flipped over two years ago.
Mrs. Cameron’s son also carries one of the same mutations as her.
Researchers believe many people out there have the same mutations. Dr. Cox said: “People with rare insensitivity to pain can be valuable to medical research as we learn how their genetic mutations impact how they experience pain, so we would encourage anyone who does not experience pain to come forward.”
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