Video: Scientists’ Solution to the Secret of Sunburn May Lead to New Pain Drugs

By Dirk Hanson 07/07/11

Discovery of a mechanism that triggers inflammatory pain could lead to safer painkilling medications.

You’re at the beach, grabbing as much sun as you can, and you’re just noticing that you overdid it: a tender, swollen feeling on your back and shoulders. It’s a sunburn, you idiot, and be thankful for that pain, which is a sign that your immune system has sent chemical warriors to assess and repair your tissue injuries. One of the protein molecules responsible for the inflammation and pain of sunburn shows up far more often at the sunburn site than any other. Known as CXCL5, the molecule is part of a group of proteins responsible for signaling immune cells to attack injured tissue, causing pain, swelling, and tenderness as a byproduct. Writing in Science Translational Medicine, Researchers at King’s College London have isolated CXCL5 as the major culprit in the inflammatory pain caused by excessive UVB radiation, otherwise known as sunburn, and they hope the discovery will lead to new avenues of treatment for chronic pain. The CXCL5 protein molecule belongs to a family called chemokines. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Pfizer, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline, have drug research programs looking at chemokines.” We’re not surprised. Pain is a $150 billion business in this country. Stephen McMahon, one of the study authors at King’s College, said that there were several candidate molecules that could be tested in human trials in the near future. “I’m excited about where these finding could take us in terms of eventually developing a new type of analgesic,” McMahon said. See video below:

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]