What happens when the pain gets to be too much? What happens when the drugs stop working? The physicians are giving you as much as you can take without dying, and youre still living with 7, 8, 9 levels of pain, every waking moment? Some of the talk behind physician assisted suicide is to let people decide when enough is enough, and to permanently end their pain-filled hellish existence.
But what if there were options?
What if herpes could bring your pain levels down from 7, 8, 9… to 1-2? What if herpes could take you from ‘I want to end my own life’ to ‘I can handle this’?
What if I told you this idea is not the mad rantings of an insane virology graduate student, but a reality that has already occurred?
The basic idea behind this research is simple: Pain is caused by signals from nerves (nociceptors). Herpes likes nerves. Lets make a GMO herpes that delivers human preproenkephalin, the gene we have that codes for a pre-endogenous-opiate. Use herpes to make the cells that respond to pain, make the anti-pain molecule.
This was one of the most depressing, yet hopeful, papers I have ever read.
The patients in this study were 10 terminal cancer patients, with pain in the 7-9 range, and taking maximal doses of morphine. They gave the patients either 107, 108, or 109 GMO viruses. There were no placebos, and all of the patients knew what they were getting into. Here is the sad part:
Because of the terminal nature of subjects underlying cancer, by 2 months post-dosing there was only 1 patient surviving in the 107 pfu cohort, and 2 each in the 108 and 109 cohorts. By 3 months after dosing, there was only 1 patient remaining in the 107 and in the 108 cohorts.
Here is the good news: The 107 dose didnt do anything for the patients. The 108 dose drastically lowered pain scores (down to the 1-2 range !!!!), but eventually they started to creep back up. 109 GMO herpes dropped the pain scores, and they creeped up too, but more slowly. Sure, this patient population and study design isnt perfect, and the outcome isnt perfect, but this is the first time we have tried this in humans. A trial turning out this successful is a great starting point for optimizing this kind of therapy.
And, you dont have to have these viruses injected into your spine or anything crazy (which can come with its own complications)– its just a regular ol shot.
Certainly this will have applications outside of cancer, and it doesnt do anything about the cancer… So yeah, the cancer is still going to kill you. But if you didnt go insane from the pain while it was doing it…