U.S. scientists win Nobel Prize in medicine
A late-night call from the secretary-general of the Nobel Committee woke up David Julius to announce him as one of the winners of the prize. He and 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 Institute 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.
What do the discoveries mean? Experts say the study of pain has long been one of the great medical mysteries. The sense of touch can be difficult to understand, and one expert said Julius’ and Patapoutian’s research provides keys to the lock. By discovering these specific nerve and cell sensors, scientists hope to find out how pain starts, which can lead to nonopiate treatment options.
Dig deeper: Read John Dawson’s report in Beginnings about scientists’ work to find a replacement medication for opioids.
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