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Researchers discover possible relief from itchiness

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If the mosquito bites and sunburn that come with the summertime have you itching and scratching some relief may be on the way. Researchers have uncovered a potential relief for itchiness. Whether it's people or animals, sometimes we itch. Scratching isn't the best remedy and can cause more harm than relief. Molecular biologist Zhou-Feng Chen and colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis may have found a remedy while looking for a treatment for chronic pain. They tested mice that lacked the gene "GRPR," which normally helps transmit messages in the spinal cord. Chen said, "We measure different kind of pain response and we don't see much significant difference between in terms of pain behavior." When they injected a chemical that simulates GRPR into the mice, they began to scratch. The more they injected, the more the mice scratched. Chen said, "Those mice would begin to scratch a lot, scratch their body very vigorously. Yeah, that's the first sign and the first clue we had well, this gene may be involved in itchy sensation." Chen then tested several itchy substances in mice that did and did not have the gene. Mice without GRPR scratched significantly less. They think that blocking the gene with a chemical may translate into a cure for cases of chronic itching. "Well, that's our hope. So, this actually -- the discovery of the GRPR -- is actually just the very first step," Chen said. It's research that's just scratching the surface of why we itch. Cancer researchers have observed another effect of chemicals that block GRPR -- they appear to slow the growth of tumors. That information could help speed clinical trials for an anti-itch drug.

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