Researchers from SAHMRI and Flinders University have found a link between itchy skin and gut pain, opening the door for pain relief options that don’t need opioids.
Lead author, Professor Stuart Brierley, says the discovery is significant for the 11 per cent of the world’s population who suffer chronic pain brought about by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
“We found receptors which cause an itchy feeling on skin also do the same in in the gut, so these IBS patients are essentially suffering from a painful ‘gut itch’,” he said.
“Having shown these mechanisms contribute to chronic gut pain, we can now work out ways to block these receptors and thereby stop the ‘gut itch’ signal traveling from the gut to the brain.
“We now hope to help create a new oral medication for IBS which will be a far better solution than the problems currently presented by opioid treatments”.
Professor Brierley, the Director of the Visceral Pain Research Group at SAHMRI, says the National Health and Medical Research Council-funded project began when his team decided to ask important questions about how nerves in the gut are activated to cause pain.
“In millions of Australians with IBS, it looks like these 'itch' receptors might be more present than in healthy people and more activated neurons means increased pain.” he said.
“Pain experienced by IBS sufferers occurs when itch receptors are coupled with what’s known as the ‘wasabi receptor’ in the nervous system.
“If you think about what happens when you eat wasabi, it activates a receptor on the nerves and sends a pain signal - that’s exactly what’s happening within in their gut as they experience an itchy effect or wasabi effect in the gut.”