Pain-Sensing Organ Shows Engineering Principles | The Institute for Creation Research
Pain-Sensing Organ Shows Engineering Principles
New human organs are rarely discovered, but that’s what several astute scientists recently accomplished at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics.1 The organ is a loosely connected mesh of cells in the skin’s nervous system that are sensitive to painful conditions straining the skin. This research also demonstrates fundamental design principles of biological sensors.

The press release showcasing the discovery states,

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have now discovered a new sensory receptor organ in the skin that is sensitive to hazardous environmental irritation. It is comprised of glia cells with multiple long protrusions and which collectively go to make up a mesh-like organ within the skin. This organ is sensitive to painful mechanical damage such as pricks and pressure.

Their findings were published in the American journal Science and demonstrated an additional sensory role for the nervous system’s glial cells. These cells were generally viewed as performing a multitude of functions but only in support of the data-carrying nerve cells. In fact, a new subtype of pain-sensitive glial cell called nociceptive Schwann cells was discovered. In describing the cells’ previously unknown function the researchers “discovered a specialized cutaneous glial cell type with extensive processes forming a mesh-like network in the subepidermal border of the skin that conveys noxious [painful] thermal and mechanical sensitivity.” They concluded that “these glial cells, which are intimately associated with unmyelinated nociceptive nerves, are inherently mechanosensitive and transmit nociceptive [painful] information to the nerve.”2

For decades, medical schools and biology departments have taught that pain sensations were initiated by the activation of free nerve endings without end organs in the skin. These new findings overturn that understanding as affirmed by two scientists not involved with the Swedish research who state, “However, it has been a long-standing belief that nociceptors [pain sensors] lose glial ensheathment [a type of covering acting like an electrical insulator] when they cross the basement membrane into the epidermis [skin], leaving only the free endings of unmyelinated axons as nociceptive sensors.”3 The search for new discoveries and updating ways to better explain biological phenomena are the essence of solid biological research.

The Institute for Creation Research has been promoting an important hypothesis underlying an organism-focused, design-based theory of biological design which assumes that biological systems will be best explained by the same engineering principles constraining human-designed systems performing similar functions.4 Several engineering principles constraining sensor design may be observed in this newly discovered skin sensory organ.

This organ has “thermal and mechanical sensitivity.” A basic design constraint is that sensors must be sensitive only to specific environmental conditions and insensitive to others. This is achieved through the physical properties and construction of the sensor. Therefore, this organ may be insensitive to rapidly detecting a chemical exposure. Another principle for why myriads of exposures aren’t stimuli is because internal programming must specify for itself what constitutes actual environmental signals, cues, or stimuli. The stimuli for the newly discovered organ were limited to exposures such as “mechanical damage such as pricks and pressure.”

Further design principles highlighted by the newly discovered organ include the fact that sensors are elements in active or passive surveillance systems used to acquire data. Also, any self-adjusting system will have an integrated trigger—that must be some type of sensor—and will be the initiating element of self-adjusting processes. Thus, engineers strategically position sensors at the organism-environment boundary; which in this case is the skin.

Sensors are a vital element of ICR’s design-based model of adaptation called Continuous Environmental Tracking (CET).5 This model postulates that much of adaptation ranging from rapid physiological changes to those occurring over many generations happens via innate systems with elements analogous to those within human-engineered tracking systems, namely: input sensors, internal logic mechanisms to select suitable responses, and actuators to execute responses.

Microscopic sensors integrated into a whole organ system capable of detecting thermal and mechanical exposures which operate by engineering principles showcase the incomparable engineering genius of our Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ.

1. Anonymous. 2019. New pain organ discovered in the skin. Karolinska Institutet News. Posted at on August 16, 2019 accessed August 26, 2019.
2. Abdo, H. et al. 2019. Specialized cutaneous Schwann cells initiate pain sensation. Science. 365(6454): 695-699. DOI: 10.1126/science.aax6452
3. Doan, R. A. and K. R. Monk. 2019. Glia in the skin activate pain responses. Science. 365(6454): 641-642. DOI: 10.1126/science.aay6144
4. Guliuzza, R. J. 2018. Engineered Adaptability: Sensor Triggers Affirm Intelligently Designed Internalism. Acts & Facts. 47 (2): 17-19; Guliuzza, R. J. 2018. Engineered Adaptability: Creatures' Adaptability Begins with Their Sensors. Acts & Facts. 47 (3): 17-19.
5. Guliuzza, R. J. 2018. Engineered Adaptability: Adaptive Changes Are Purposeful, Not Random. Acts & Facts. 47 (6): 17-19.

*Randy Guliuzza is ICR’s National Representative. He earned his M.D. from the University of Minnesota, his Master of Public Health from Harvard University, and served in the U.S. Air Force as 28th Bomb Wing Flight Surgeon and Chief of Aerospace Medicine. Dr. Guliuzza is also a registered Professional Engineer.
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