Our treatment options for chronic pain continue to rapidly evolve. And one of these developing approaches is called gene therapy. This article is here to answer your questions about this treatment, discuss the pros and cons, and evaluate if gene therapy could be a beneficial option to manage your pain.
What Is Gene Therapy?
Gene therapy is a newer approach to managing or even preventing certain chronic disorders. This type of therapy is meant to be used as a treatment option to replace traditional pain management, such as prescribed drugs or invasive surgeries.
Recent research illustrates the ways in which human gene therapy should work. As we understand gene therapy right now, it is a way to alter, take out, or replace a mutated gene that causes an incurable disease.
The end goal of gene therapy is to directly address a patient’s specific disorder to alleviate harmful or even deadly symptoms. Currently, gene therapy is conducted in several ways with the use of vectors:
- Doctors may replace an afflicted gene that causes a patient’s particular disease. The replacement would be a healthy copy of the existing gene.
- In some cases, gene therapy works to eliminate the mutated gene that causes the patient’s disease.
- Lastly, research shows that gene therapy is working toward creating healthy replicas of genes that would help the patient to naturally fight off the disorder that is causing pain or illness. This could help bolster autoimmune defenses in people who have compromised immune systems.
Doctors conduct these clinical trials of gene therapy through the use of injections, IVs, or by exposing samples of a patient’s tissue to the treatment in a controlled laboratory setting.
Some people believe that gene therapy is another form of “gene doping.” Gene doping describes athletes changing their genes for a competitive edge. However, this application is entirely theoretical and no research indicates that this has ever happened or is currently possible.
On the other hand, gene therapy is particularly useful in potentially addressing inherited disorders and other genetic conditions. And gene therapy accomplishes this by fixing genes that do not work correctly and harm the patient.
Additionally, gene therapy might be used as an alternative treatment option for certain cancers. This could be either as a cure for certain cancers or a preventative measure to keep a patient’s body healthy.
Gene therapy has also recently been considered as a new treatment option to address one of the most prevalent medical issues in the United States: chronic pain. Chronic pain is a common symptom that goes alongside many genetic disorders. Therefore, gene therapy might be the new go-to option for chronic pain patients.
Can Gene Therapy Help My Chronic Pain?
Currently, research on gene therapy is conducted only for disorders that have no known cure. These could be genetic disorders that affect one’s immune system, a birth defect, and other incurable, chronic conditions.
Clinical trials of gene therapies are recommended for patients who live with rare diseases. According to the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy, a rare disease affects less than 200,000 people within the United States. Unfortunately, these rare diseases are often life-threatening and incurable.
Some examples of diseases could respond successfully to gene therapy include:
- Hematological disorders that affect the blood
- Certain types of cancers
- Inherited musculoskeletal disorders
- Neurological disorders
- Chronic pain
- And other recessive, inherited diseases
Studies show that up to 40 percent of health care costs in the United States alone are a result of chronic pain issues. In cases of chronic pain, gene therapy would work to approach the symptoms in order to give patients an improved quality of life—one that would be pain-free.
Gene therapy for chronic pain would be used to introduce a new gene into a patient’s body that helps to block pain signals from reaching the brain. If the therapy is successful, chronic pain patients would have a significant decrease in feeling debilitating pain.
As a whole, gene therapy research continues to evolve in the United States and internationally. Many researchers of this treatment option remain hopeful that it will be effective in improving the quality of life for future generations.
The Pros of Gene Therapy
If you are considering gene therapy as a treatment option for your chronic pain, there are many pros and cons to keep in mind before committing to this method. Bear in mind that researchers cannot practice gene therapy on people in most cases. This is simply an examination of your options as this new field of study develops.
Here are the biggest pros of using gene therapy for chronic pain and debilitating genetic disorders:
- Gene therapy eliminates the need for invasive surgeries. Instead, a gene transfer would be completed using a simple injection or intravenous tool to introduce the new, healthy gene to the patient’s system.
- Along the same lines, gene therapy might be a less risky alternative to using opioids and other highly addictive prescriptions. This is especially true in situations where the patient has a history of substance use disorders.
- Gene therapy helps your body to fight against deadly illnesses. Additionally, it might be most useful in treating genetic or inherited conditions that will affect future generations.
While all of these benefits would be extremely useful for the chronically ill patient, the science has simply not progressed far enough yet to be 100 percent effective.
Many patients in clinical trials use gene therapy as a last resort. This is because it is such a new and unproven medical option. In these cases, patients must hope that the therapy works, despite knowing the risks that come with this approach.
The Cons of Gene Therapy
The truth about gene therapy is that we do not yet know how successful it can be, as this treatment option continues to develop and improve through more research. Yet, it is important to be realistic about the downsides to gene therapy. The biggest cons to this therapy include:
- Gene editing comes with a lot of ethical concerns. In fact, this type of therapy is sometimes referred to as a new form of eugenics that works to eliminate and degrade the people deemed “less than” in our society.
- Clinical trials in the United States have had mixed results. One of the most important cons to take into consideration is the risk of bringing new health concerns as a result of the therapies. Dangerous immune system responses, infection, and the risk of tumors are all associated with gene therapy. As with any new medical procedure, the chance of death is nonzero.
- The cost of gene therapy. Right now, gene therapy is not readily accessible to the public, which in turn makes it much more costly. Some researchers predict that gene therapy can cost upwards of $2 million. Additionally, navigating healthcare options for financial assistance is challenging enough. In clinical trials, patients should expect to cover most, if not all, of the costs out of their own pocket.
Moving Forward From Here
Gene therapy is a complex new treatment option that continues to evolve to be more successful, less costly, and more accurate in addressing specific diseases.
Managing chronic pain is a pressing issue that we must continue to try to solve. Using gene therapy to block pain signals seems almost too good to be true. But there are plenty of gene therapy pros and cons, and people should weigh both when considering their options.
Yet, finding pain relief remains the goal. And ultimately, you are the only one qualified to decide what pain treatments suit your needs.
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