Understanding how Nav 1.7 proteins in nerves cause pain in arthritis

Disease - Rheumatoid arthritis

Lead applicant - Dr Ewan Smith

Organisation - University of Cambridge

Type of grant - Invited Research Award

Status of grant - Active

Amount of the original award - £253,071.24

Start date - 1 October 2018

Reference - 21973

Public Summary

What are the aims of this research?

Pain signals travel along nerves in a similar way to how electrical signals travel along wires. In nerves that sense pain, it is known that a set of proteins called NaVs play a key role in the sensation of pain, as people who lack this protein don’t feel pain. The main aim of the work is to understand how NaVs interact to create electrical signals in nerves which result in pain in those with arthritis. To do this they will try to understand how the proteins interact differently in healthy mice and mice with arthritis.

Why is this research important?

Many people living with chronic pain experience inadequate pain relief and/or unpleasant side effects from their pain-killing medication. Consequently, there is an urgent need to develop new types of painkillers which work in different ways to those currently available.

Previous researchers have shown that levels of a particular NaV protein, NaV1.7, are increased in nerves of mice with arthritis compared to healthy mice. This suggests that the NaV1.7 protein is important for producing pain, however currently how it does this is poorly understood. To confirm findings in mice, the researchers will also look at human nerves. Studying both mouse and human tissue will ensure that the work provides information needed to help develop new treatments.

How will the findings benefit patients?

Current painkillers are not always effective for people living with long term pain, and some have unpleasant side effects, which can mean they are not always suitable for long term use, particularly for the elderly. This study could provide new information about how arthritis pain works help to develop improved painkillers that work in different ways to existing options, to improve quality of life for people living with chronic pain.