Ever touched a boiling kettle by accident only to retract your hand instantly upon contact? Despite its sting, did you know that the immediate sensation of acute pain actually serves the necessary purpose of alerting us to bodily harm and dangers? Imagine for a moment you were impervious to pain.

Before you relish that prospect, here’s the reality of people who literally cannot feel pain—they end up subjecting themselves to more physical harm and hurt unknowingly and continually.

So exactly how significant and purposeful is pain to us in our daily lives? To understand pain, we need to first comprehend how we heal. A*STAR researchers have discovered what goes on beneath our skin when you hurt yourself, be it from a paper cut or a nasty scratch from your moody cat!


When you sustain an injury, your stressed and damaged tissues release small particles called neuropeptides that bind to the pain receptors in your skin.

These pain receptors trigger your body to temper your perception of pain so that you hurt less—even before you can yelp “OUCH!!”

What happens next is sticky business. In their ordinary state, cells are typically ‘sticky’ because they are coated with a layer of ‘adhesive’ that allows them to adhere to each other in order to form an intact tissue or organ. When injured, surrounding cells shed part of this adhesive so that they are able to move about more freely. This eases the movement of active cells to the wound site to execute their healing capabilities.


While a larger number of cells make their way to the wound site at this stage, it isn’t their sheer quantity that heals the wound. A combination of different cells each with specialised functions triggered by the pain receptors work their magic in sync to facilitate both an effective and efficient healing process For example, white blood cells fight bacteria while epithelial skin cells serve to rebuild the walls of the broken skin in order to prevent further infection.

Complicated? Think of how the different superheroes in Avengers work together to protect the world from evil!

Yet, for every superhero team, there has to be a Captain America leading strategies and launching orders. So who’s the big guy calling the shots in our pain processes?

You guessed it—our pain receptors that direct the entire healing process are the stars whenever we hurt ourselves! Without their instructions to the various groups of cells in our bodies, proper healing cannot take place. This is supported by clinical studies where patients suffering from chronic pain (pain that persists for long periods of time) displayed a deficiency in crucial pain receptors required to regulate pain and ensure proper wound healing.

Without instructions from pain receptors to the various groups of cells in our bodies, proper healing cannot take place.


To help these patients, A*STAR researchers A/Professor Paul Bigliardi and Dr Mei Bigliardi-Qi patented a product that could help cells regain their ability to generate pain receptors.

This product works by assisting cells to generate pain receptors. The presence of these pain receptors can potentially aid the body in transforming chronic pain (bad pain) into acute pain (good pain); and possibly into full recovery – the elimination of post-injury pain!

Bigliardi’s team is currently in the process of preparing clinical trials for the product. They expect the proof of concept to be ready in about a year. This fresh discovery of the pathway of wound-healing has and will continue to enhance our capacities in managing pain.

With Bigliardi’s new product underway, sufferers of chronic pain can now anticipate a day when they will no longer have to taste the pain of pain again!

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