Meet the Child Who Feels No Pain


This genetic mutation is incredibly rare and there is little information on how many people are afflicted worldwide. Experts say they estimate about 50 to100 families could carry the mutation worldwide. The disease often results in patients' accidentally self-mutilating because they don't feel the pain that might stop them from scratching their skin raw or biting through their tongue when teething.

Additionally, many people with the disorder, including Isaac, do not sweat, making them incredibly susceptible to heatstroke. Brown said she has to keep Isaac in special cooling vests and does not allow him to be outside in the summer.

Although the disorder has made life difficult for Isaac and his family, researchers believe the genetic mutations that cause the condition could help in the development of breakthrough pain medication.

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Scientists and pharmaceutical companies are hoping to imitate the effects of these genetic mutations in order to stop pain signals for people who suffer from chronic pain. If successful, pain medications could potentially "end" debilitating pain without dangerous side effects.

Waxman said if people were able to effectively create pain medication by blocking a specific sodium channel without other side effects, it would be a major medical breakthrough.

"We could fill our clinics five times over with patients in chronic pain," said Waxman.

"The holy grail of pain research is [finding] a type of sodium channel in pain ... that does not play a major role in brain or heart," said Waxman. If researchers could disrupt a specific channel that only transfers pain messages it could possibly mean alleviating pain for those suffering debilitating and chronic conditions.

Last month European researchers published a study in the Nature Genetics journal that revealed they had pinpointed a specific mutation of one gene that caused an unidentified girl to suffer from congenital insensitivity to pain. The girl's mutations lead to a disruption of a specific sodium channel.

Ingo Kuth, a geneticist and co-author of the Nature Genetics study, said he is hoping for the possibility of creating a breakthrough pain medication, but that the research remains in the early stages and scientists have to be careful when developing new medications since "you might avoid [old] side effects, but create new ones."

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For Carrie Brown the possibility that Isaac's genetic code could possibly be used to help people is "amazing" and a small silver lining for the family.

"When he was diagnosed, [doctors said] there's nothing we can do for Isaac, not yet anyway," recalled Brown. "But the fact that they can take his mutated gene and cause people with chronic pain to feel less pain. The thought of that is unreal…. God gave us Isaac, maybe for this very purpose."

For now keeping an eye on Isaac has become a duty for all members of the Brown family, and Carrie Brown said it's hard to let Isaac be a kid sometimes.

During a recent play date she took him to a roller rink but quickly took him out of the rink when he fell. Isaac, still wanting to play with his friends told his mother, "It doesn't bother me to fall, Mom. It doesn't bother me!"

Brown turned to her son and said, "I know, but it bothers me."

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