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U.S. scientists take Nobel

Human Race: Prize committee says studies on pain and touch could be major breakthroughs

Professor Ardem Patapoutian Courtesy of Scripps Research via AP

U.S. scientists take Nobel
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David Julius awoke to a late-night call from Thomas Perl­mann, the secretary-general of the Nobel Committee: Julius was one of the winners of the prize in medicine. He and co-winner Ardem Patapoutian separately studied ways the human body reacts to heat and touch. Julius, of the University of California, San Francisco, used capsaicin, the active component in chili peppers, to pinpoint nerve sensors that respond to heat. Patapoutian, of Scripps Research in La Jolla, Calif., found pressure-sensitive cell sensors that respond to mechanical heat as well. The Nobel Committee said those revelations could lead to new ways of treating pain or even heart disease. Experts say the study of pain has long been one of the great medical mysteries. By discovering these specific nerve and cell sensors, scientists hope to learn how pain starts, which can lead to nonopiate treatment options.


Francis Collins, 71, director of the National Institutes of Health for 12 years, announced on Oct. 5 he will step down by the end of the year. President Joe Biden will appoint a new director of the world’s largest biomedical agency, pending Senate confirmation. Collins led the growth of the agency and helped discover genetic mutations involved in cystic fibrosis. Also, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases partnered with Moderna to create a COVID-19 vaccine in record time. Collins professes faith in Jesus Christ and also in evolution as God’s means of creating the world, saying in a book he thinks the first few chapters of Genesis have more of a “lyrical and allegorical” flavor than a historical one.


Todd Akin, a six-term congressman, died on Oct. 3 after a battle with cancer. A staunch pro-lifer, Akin was arrested multiple times in the 1980s for protesting in front of abortion centers. In 2012, he challenged Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill but lost after saying he disagreed with allowing abortion in cases of rape, commenting that pregnancies are rare in cases of “legitimate rape.” Akin apologized for the comment, but Republicans withdrew funding and endorsements. Later he wrote a book in which he criticized Republican lawmakers for distancing themselves from him and said his comment was misinterpreted. Akin and his wife homeschooled their six children, and he served as an elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.


The number of mostly Haitian migrants who amassed at the U.S. southern border in September is now estimated at 30,000. In public statements, the Biden administration emphasized its plans to send the migrants back to Haiti. In practice, the administration sent a small portion back to Haiti and released about 12,000 of them into the United States with an order to appear at an immigration court at a future date, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Sept. 26. He said thousands more were in custody, and 2,000 had been expelled on flights to Haiti.


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