Does pain get on your nerves?

When youre in pain, nothing else matters. You dont care about the news, sports results or the vagaries of bonds and securities. All you can think about is being pain-free. McGill professor James Henrys research is dedicated to making that happen. Dr Henry is Professor of Physiology and Psychiatry and President of the Canadian Pain Foundation. He is a winner of the Millennium Distinguished Career Award of the Canadian Pain Society and one of the leaders of the proposed new McGill Centre for Research on Pain. Currently, the only other such pain research centre in Canada is at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital. With seed funding already obtained from the Canadian Institute for Health and Research (CIHR), it is hoped that the McGill Centre for Research on Pain will soon be a reality.

As an electrophysiologist, Henry studies the electrical activity of nerve cells. These "neurons," as they are called, make up the pathway by which the pain message is transmitted to the brain. And its all automatic. Touch a hot stove, and you instantly draw back your hand. You dont have to think about it! The neurons that make this happen dont actually touch each other. They are separated by a tiny gap called a synapse. So how does the message get across this gap? By means of chemicals called neurotransmitters. A nerve cell that has been electrically stimulated prompts activity in an adjacent one by releasing specific neurotransmitters that fit into receptors on the neighbouring cell. Dr. Henry has been investigating the possibility of modifying such synaptic activity by means of appropriate drugs. In particular he has been looking at the neurotransmitter peptide, substance P, which helps pain signals travel to the brain.

Every year pain prevents millions of people from going to work, leading to billions of dollars of economic loss. Many, including Dr. Henry, argue that much of the research being done on pain is simply not reaching enough people -- doctors

Contact: Kate William
McGill University

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