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Rare Genetic Mutation Makes Woman Virtually Immune to Pain, Anxiety and Stress

Jo Cameron, 71-year-old woman from Scotland, is one of only two people in the world known to have a rare genetic mutation that makes them virtually immune to pain.

Interestingly, Cameron only learned about her “superpower” at age 65, when doctors found that she didn’t need any painkillers after a undergoing a serious operation on her hand. She had been warned to expect severe pain after the surgery, but she didn’t feel any at all, so her anaesthetist referred her to pain geneticists at University College London and Oxford University, where tests showed that she had a mutation in a previously unknown gene, which scientists now believe plays a major role in pain signalling, mood and memory.

The story of how Jo ended up having surgery on her hand is quite interesting. Every now and then, her hip would give way, making her walk lop-sided, but because she never reported any pain, doctors didn’t even bother doing an x-ray scan of her hip. When someone finally decided to investigate the problem more thoroughly, they discovered massive joint deterioration that for the average person would have been impossible to live with without painkillers. Cameron had her hip replaced and managed the pain with just two paracetamol tablets a day. While she was recuperating in the hospital, doctors noticed that her thumbs were deformed by osteoarthritis and scheduled her for double hand surgery, a procedure that many experts describe as excruciating. Yet Jo didn’t feel any pain at all.

Photo: Morgan Basham/Unsplash

“Looking back, I realise I hadn’t needed painkillers, but if you don’t need them you don’t question why you don’t,” 71-year-old Jo told BBC Scotland. “You are what you are, until someone points it out you don’t question it. I was just a happy soul who didn’t realise there was anything different about me.”

While interviewing and testing Jo Cameron, scientists learned that she didn’t even feel pain when giving birth to her children, instead describing the experience as “quite enjoyable really”. She also reported regularly burning her hand on the stove and only being alerted about it by the smell. Broken limbs, cuts and bruises never seemed to cause her pain either.

 

But it’s not just pain that Jo Cameron appears to be virtually impervious to. In her stress and depression tests, the Scottish woman scored zero, which scientists found remarkable. She is always upbeat and never panics, even in situations in which most of us would be seriously shook. For example, when another car ran her off the road, two years ago, Jo simply climbed out of her car, which had been flipped on its roof, and went to comfort the driver who had caused the accident. She didn’t even notice her own bruises until later.

“I knew that I was happy-go-lucky, but it didn’t dawn on me that I was different,” Jo told The Guardian. “I thought it was just me. I didn’t know anything strange was going on until I was 65.”

 

The 71-year-old says that she wouldn’t change anything about herself, but admits that pain is important. It lets you know that something is wrong, like in the case of her hip; she didn’t know there was something serious going on until her joint was almost completely ruined and she just couldn’t physically walk with her arthritis.

Another downside to Cameron’s rare genetic mutation is that it makes her more forgetful than the average person. “I’m always forgetting things; I always have done,” she said.

 

Doctors hope that the discovery of this amazing condition will help scientists develop a novel painkiller that could potentially offer more efficient post-surgical pain relief. Dr. Devjit Srivastava says that, despite all the advancements in the field of painkillers, one out of two surgery patients today still experience moderate to sever pain.

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