A PENSIONER who experiences virtually no pain, has superhuman healing and remains unflappable in life-threatening situations may sound like a Marvel superhero.
But the Scottish woman’s amazing abilities are real and have just been reported in a leading scientific journal.
UK researchers have discovered that the remarkable abilities of the 67-year-old woman from Inverness are apparently down to a previously unreported genetic mutation.
The case, published in the ‘British Journal of Anaesthesia’, could open the door for a host of new treatments to help people recover from surgery and manage chronic pain and anxiety disorders.
The woman first caught doctors’ attention when, aged 65, she sought treatment for a hip problem.
Doctors at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, found her hip to be severely arthritic and in need of replacing.
The discomfort would usually have been debilitating and they decided it needed further investigating.
The authors of the case study said: “She reported numerous burns and cuts without pain, often smelling her burning flesh before noticing any injury, and these wounds healed quickly with little or no residual scar.”
They also noted that she would eat Scotch bonnet chillis “without discomfort, but a short-lasting ‘pleasant glow’ in her mouth”.
Geneticists at University College London and the University of Oxford identified two mutations of note in the woman.
One was in a gene called FAAH, which plays a role in the body’s endocannabinoid system, affecting pain, memory and mood.
They also found a second gene, previously written off as “junk DNA”. It appears this gene, dubbed “FAAH-OUT”, controls the FAAH gene and, in the Scottish patient, switches it off.
The woman also scored a zero in tests of anxiety and depression, and said she never panics in dangerous situations.
“The implications for these findings are immense,” said Raigmore pain consultant Dr Devjit Srivastava.
“The findings point towards a novel painkiller discovery that could offer post-surgical pain relief and also accelerate wound healing. We hope this could help the 330 million patients who undergo surgery globally every year.”
“I had no idea until a few years ago that there was anything that unusual about how little pain I feel,” the woman said.
“I just thought it was normal. Learning about it now fascinates me as much as it does anyone else.”