It sounds like something of science fiction – perhaps a Marvel character even. However, this 71-year-old Scottish pensioner isn’t one of Professor Xavier’s students or even a comic book character at all.
Her name is Jo Cameron, and she feels virtually no pain or anxiety. Her injuries also heal quickly and without scarring. To what does she owe these remarkable abilities?
It’s apparently all due to a newly discovered genetic mutation.
Not Feeling Pain
What’s interesting about Cameron is that, for the longest time, she had no idea there was anything special about her.
When friends told her that childbirth would be painful, she was surprised to find she didn’t even need an epidural.
“I could feel that my body was changing, but it didn’t hurt me,” she said. Later, she’d go on to tell other prospective mothers, “Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as people say it is.”
Over four decades later, she learned that her pain-free life was simply not normal at all.
A Genetic Mutation
While scientists have studied other cases of folks who don’t feel pain, Cameron’s is unique. In a paper published March 28, 2019, in the British Journal of Anesthesia, researchers explained why.
They said her marvelous abilities were the result of a mutation in a previously unidentified gene.
Now, the hope is that their finding could lead to the development of new, novel treatments for pain.
They also think that the mutation explains why Cameron doesn’t feel fear or anxiety and why she heals so quickly.
Making the Discovery
Cameron didn’t catch doctors’ attention until she was 65 years old when she sought treatment for hip problems. The doctors soon found that her hip was severely arthritic and would ultimately need to be replaced.
It seemed strange to them, however, that she wasn’t in debilitating pain. This led to further investigation.
“She reported numerous burns and cuts without pain, often smelling her burning flesh before noticing any injury, and these wounds healed quickly with little or no residual scar,” said the authors of her case study. It was also noted she could eat Scotch bonnet chilies without any discomfort.
Additionally, she reportedly never panics when faced with dangerous situations and does not feel depression or anxiety.
There were two mutations identified by geneticists at University College London and the University of Oxford.
One happened to be in a gene called FAAH, which affects mood, memory, and – you guessed it – pain. The other gene, once disregarded as “junk DNA,” they learned controls the FAAH gene. They’re now calling it “FAAH-OUT,” as it appears to be what switched off Cameron’s FAAH gene.
Of course, the implications for these new findings are absolutely incredible.