STOCKHOLM – On Monday, two scientists won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering how the human body perceives temperature and touch. These discoveries may lead to new ways to treat pain and even heart disease.
Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian respectively identified receptors in the skin that respond to heat and pressure, and researchers are studying drugs against them. Some hope that these findings will eventually lead to pain treatments and reduce dependence on highly addictive opioids. But the breakthrough that occurred decades ago has not yet produced many effective new therapies.
The Nobel Committee stated that Julius of the University of California, San Francisco uses capsaicin, the active ingredient in peppers, to help determine nerve sensors that respond to heat. Patapoutian of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, discovered pressure-sensitive sensors in cells that respond to mechanical stimuli.
“This really unlocks one of nature’s secrets,” said Thomas Perlman, secretary-general of the committee, when announcing the winners. “This is actually vital to our survival, so this is a very important and profound discovery.”
The committee stated that their findings solved “a big mystery facing humans”: how we perceive our environment.
Oscar Marin, director of the MRC Center for Neurodevelopmental Disorders at King’s College London, said that the selection of the winner highlights how little scientists knew about the problem before they discovered it—and how much more needs to be learned.
“Although we understand the physiology of the senses, what we don’t understand is how we perceive differences in temperature or pressure,” Marin said. “Understanding how our body perceives these changes is crucial, because once we understand these molecules, they can be targets. It’s like finding a lock, and now we know the precise key needed to unlock it.”
Marin predicts that new treatments for pain may appear first, but if scientists can figure out how to reduce pressure on blood vessels and other organs, then understanding how the body detects changes in pressure may eventually lead to drugs for treating heart disease.
Richard Harris of the Center for Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research at the University of Michigan also said that the work of the new winners may help design new painkillers, but pointed out that the field has been stagnant for a long time.
He said that because pain also includes psychological factors, just determining how it is triggered in the body is not enough to solve it. Nevertheless, he said that Julius and Pataptian’s work may help doctors better treat pain caused by extreme temperatures and chemical burns.
“Their findings gave us a preliminary understanding of how this type of pain started, but whether it involves many chronic pain patients remains to be seen,” he said.
Despite this, Fiona Boissonade, a pain expert at the University of Sheffield, said that the work of Nobel Prize winners is particularly relevant to one in five people worldwide who suffer from chronic pain.
She said that this kind of pain-including arthritis, migraines and chronic back problems-“is a huge medical problem, and the treatment is not very effective.” “Their research may lead us to identify new compounds that are effective in treating pain. , These compounds will not bring about the devastating effects of opioids,” which triggered an addiction crisis in the United States
For a long time, it has been difficult to remind Nobel Prize winners. Julius said that shortly before the award, he was woken up by a phone call that he thought was a prank.
“My phone rang a bit. It was a relative contacted by someone from the Nobel Committee. He tried to find my phone number,” he said at his home in San Francisco, in the middle of the night.
He didn’t realize it was a joke until his wife heard Perlman’s voice and confirmed that it was indeed the secretary of the committee calling. Julius said his wife had worked with Perlman many years ago.
Julius, 65, said later that he hoped his work would promote the development of new painkillers and explained that even the biology behind daily activities has great significance.
“We eat chili and menthol, but many times, you don’t think about how it works,” he said.
The Nobel Committee posted a photo of Patapoutian lying in bed with his son on Twitter, and he watched the news on his computer.
“A day to be grateful: This country gave me a chance to receive a good education and support for basic research. I also thank my laboratory and the collaborators who worked with me,” Patapoutian, born in Lebanon, tweeted Wen said.
The information in this article was provided by Frank Jordans and Emma Tobin of The Associated Press.