Of Mice and Pain

Of Mice and Pain

The real world is so much more interesting and peculiar than fiction. The May 2nd Science had an article called Male Scent May Compromise Biomedical Studies and reviews how mice respond to pain.

Dr. Jeffrey Mogil studies pain in mice. Mice exhibit less pain response if there is someone in the room, even if that someone is a cut out of Paris Hilton. But even more curious, animals demonstrate less pain response if it were a male in the room. Then they refined that response even more. It is the smell of the male that the mice were responding to:

So he told the people in his lab to place their worn T-shirts near injected animals and then leave the room. Even when the humans weren’t present, the results were the same. Rats and mice showed about a 36% lower score on the grimace scale when exposed to male versus female T-shirts, the team reported online this week in Nature Methods. (Female mice were slightly more sensitive to the effect.) Placing a woman’s T-shirt next to a man’s T-shirt negated the impact. Bedding material from unfamiliar male mice and guinea pigs, as well as pet beds slept in by unsterilized male cats and dogs, produced the same response: Male odors seemed to act like painkillers.

He hypothesized that it is an evolved response to being potentially hunted. To show pain is to show weakness and make it more likely you will be attacked.

Does this apply to humans? Interesting question. Humans are not mice although it is estimated we can detect a trillion (not typo) smells and those of you with teenaged boys know that is not an underestimate.

I think back to acupuncture pain studies and wonder what the gender of the acupuncturists was and if the gender of the therapist could have made a difference in pain. It is an interesting potential confounding variable, and would make for an interesting review of the acupuncture literature. Does the published literature demonstrate better results from male vrs female acupuncturists?

I remember one pain study, and I can’t locate it on the web or my drive (so many references to find that particular needle in the pdf stack), where several acupuncturists were used in a trial and only one had a consistent positive improvement on patient pain scores. I wish I could find the study as I wonder about the gender of the acupuncturists and perhaps the one with the better results was a more manly man, a user, perhaps, of Old Spice.

Acupuncture could be an excellent modality to tease out any effects on pain due to the gender of the provider. A researcher would not have worry about any real physiologic effects. It is reasonably clear that the features most associated with responding to acupuncture are knowing you are receiving acupuncture and believing or being told that acupuncture works.

Have male and female acupuncturists apply real and sham acupuncture (as if there is a difference) in a neutral manner and double blind methodology. If there is a gender difference in the provider and patients pain it would be very interesting.

The results, if positive

Naturopaths suffer several legislative setbacks