Americans David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian have separately identified receptors in the skin that respond to heat and pressure. This has been worthy, this Monday, two Nobel prizes in Medicine .
Not surprisingly, these findings could lead to new ways of treating pain or even heart disease. Some also hope that the discoveries will eventually lead to pain treatments that reduce dependence on highly addictive opioids.
Julius at the University of California, San Francisco, used capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot peppers, to help identify nerve sensors that respond to heat .
Julius and his collaborators created a library of millions of DNA fragments corresponding to genes that are expressed in sensory neurons that can react to pain, heat and touch. Julius’ team hypothesized that the library would include a DNA fragment that would encode the protein capable of reacting to capsaicin. A single gene capable of making cells sensitive to it was then identified. The capsaicin gene had been found .
Marin predicted that new pain treatments would likely come first, but that understanding how the body detects changes in pressure could eventually lead to drugs for heart disease, if scientists can figure out how to relieve pressure on blood vessels and other organs.
Julius and Patapoutian’s work would likely help doctors better treat pain caused by things like extreme temperatures and chemical burns .
The committee said its discoveries hit "one of the great mysteries facing humanity": how we perceive our environment. While we understood the physiology of the senses, what we did not understand was how we perceive differences in temperature or pressure. The award is the first to be awarded this year . The other awards are for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace, and economics.