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“Your Pain Has Been Successfully Deleted”


By George Weigel


   Computers are amazing tools – until they stop working.

   Nothing aggravates me more than when my dratted digital machine mysteriously shuts down in the middle of a deadline job.

   That’s when I either whack it upside the mother board or take it to a computer tech, who delves into its brain to (hopefully) make a surgical repair.

   The best outcome, though, is when I run a scan and hit the button that says, “Malicious file found. Do you want to repair?”

   If all goes well, a screen pops up that reads, “File successfully deleted.” And life is good again.

   I mention this because I think we may be on the brink of doing something similar for trigeminal neuralgia pain.

   Researchers Marshall Devor, Ze’ev Seltzer and Kim Burchiel are working on a new study to figure out if there’s a genetic defect involved in TN, and if so, whether it can be corrected.

   It’s a whole new approach that carries the real prospect of curing TN – at least for some people.

   TN treatments are certainly much better today than even a couple of generations ago. But today’s options range from mind-numbing medications to damaging the nerve (the equivalent of whacking it) to surgical probing inside the skull (usually effective but not something that people would rather have done). Even when surgeries help, TN pain often returns.

   The new theory follows recent brain-scan studies that show that most people who have blood vessels compressing their trigeminal nerves (the presumed cause of TN) don’t come down with TN.

   That’s why researchers think something else must be at play – possibly a missing, mutated or malfunctioning gene or two that also has to be present to result in shocking pain.

   With the advent of gene mapping and therapy, there’s now a real possibility that genetic deficiencies can be identified and fixed. The first step – the study Devor, Seltzer and Burchiel are doing – is to identify possible TN-related gene problems.

   As someone who’s gone through three microvascular decompression surgeries and partial numbness to become pain free (at least for now), that gives me tremendous hope.

   To have future TN sufferers get out of pain with a pill or a shot? That would be miraculous.

   If that happens, I can imagine future neuralgians reading about our current treatments with the same horror that we read about the poor folks who used to burn their face with hot irons.

   What hope... and what a blessing it is to have such brilliant and caring minds working on better ways to help suffering souls.

   Their work someday may make it possible for doctors to administer a simple shot and say, “Your pain has been successfully deleted.”

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