If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ve probably seen this absolutely incredible TED talk by Dr. Elliot Krane, on the nature of chronic pain. It is seriously one of my favorite things to watch. Chronic pain is terrible, but it’s always so hopeful to me to keep track of how much we’re learning through scientific research.
One of the things Dr. Krane mentions in this talk, which was back in 2011, is the role of a type of nervous system cell called a glial cell in chronic pain.
For a long time, scientists didn’t think glial cells did that much, in terms of affecting our overall function. Instead, glial cells were believed to provide a supportive rule, providing support and nutrients to other types of cells within the nervous system.
However, a new line of research has been identifying the fact that glial cells actually do way more than we give them credit for, in their own right.
Fast forward to 2018: turns out researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as the Karolinska Institute in Sweden have just published a groundbreaking new study on the role of glial cells in chronic pain.
For this study, researchers used brain imaging techniques to test for the level of TSPO, a chemical related to the activity of glial cells, in several different parts of the brain. They compared the level of this chemical in the brains of patients with fibromyalgia, as well as the brains of healthy subjects for comparison.
Not only did they find that fibromyalgia sufferers had much higher levels of the marker, but they also found that the amounts of this chemical present– and therefore, the level of glial cell activity– was actually correlated with the amount of fatigue reported by patients.
This is super fascinating because it shows that glial cell activity plays a role not just in our perception of pain and pain sensitization, but also in the debilitating fatigue that many fibromyalgia sufferers report.
Because a study like this is able to demonstrate this link so clearly, that opens the door for researchers to further investigate drug therapies which can target the glial cells, meaning we will someday have more options for chronic pain.
You can check out the original study here.
I am excited about this, so I wanted to be sure to pass it on.
Happy Monday to you all!