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23andMe, Grünenthal Partner on Pain Genetics

Ice cubes

(Colin Behrens, Pixabay)

3 May 2017. A personal genetics company in Silicon Valley is collaborating with a German pharmaceutical company to better understand the relationship between genetics and pain. Financial and intellectual property aspects of the agreement between 23andMe in Mountain View, California and Grünenthal Group in Aachen, Germany were not disclosed.

Pain medications is one of Grünenthal’s specialties, along with treatments for gout and inflammation. In December 2016, the company received a breakthrough therapy designation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an experimental drug treating complex regional pain syndrome. This chronic condition usually affects injured limbs, hands, or feet and is believed to result from damage to the peripheral and central nervous systems. The disorder’s symptoms are excessive or prolonged pain, with changes in skin color, temperature, or swelling.

The company 23andMe conducts on-demand genetics testing for individuals to determine their ancestry and genetic traits, or reveal inherited health risks. Customers of these services are given the option to take part in research studies, usually involving surveys, that connect genetic factors and variations with medical conditions. As reported by Science & Enterprise, 23andMe last year developed software based on Apple’s ResearchKit to capture genetics data in iPhone apps designed for medical research.

In the collaboration with Grünenthal, the companies aim to enroll some 20,000 volunteer 23andMe customers in the U.S. in a study connecting genetics with responses to pain. Individuals in the study will be asked to fill out online surveys, but also take part in a test of pain tolerance, known as a cold pressor test. This test is performed by placing one’s hand in ice water until the pain becomes unbearable, no more than 3 minutes. The analysis will then associate participants’ genetic factors with pain tolerance and responses to survey questions on pain experiences and drug tolerance.

National Institutes of Health in 2015 estimated 25.3 million people in the U.S. experience chronic pain — a daily encounter with pain for 3 months or more — and nearly 40 million people in the U.S. experience severe pain at some point. In addition, a blog post on 23andMe’s web site cites data showing pain is more likely to be reported by certain demographic and ethnic groups (e.g., women and older individuals), while chronic pain is associated with the combined effects of genetic factors, as well as a risk of depression.

“Pain is often a unique experience for each individual, and therefore complex to understand and treat,” says Emily Drabant Conley, a vice-president at 23andMe in a joint statement. “By leveraging large amounts of genetic and phenotypic data this study may help develop a more personalized approach to pain management.”

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