Sometimes scientists look for one thing but find something different, this was the case with researchers at the Washington University in St Louis who were hunting genes that govern our ability to sense pain. What they seem to have found is the gene that lets us feel itchy.
Zhou-Feng Chen, who led the study, was studying mice bred to lack a gene called GRPR, which was thought to be involved in helping pain signals pass along the spinal cord. It soon became clear that the mice reacted to pain in exactly the same way as normal mice. But later on, the team decided to test the animals' response to substances known to cause itching. They found that while the normal mice began repeatedly scratching themselves with their hind legs, the mice lacking GRPR hardly scratched at all.
The chance discovery should help drug developers design pills which can block the itchiness pathway. It could dramatically improve the comfort of people with skin disorders such as eczema, and treatments which can cause chronic itchiness as a side-effect.
Could dramatically improve the comfort of people with eczema, he says? Oh please and do it quickly I say....