(RepublicanInformer.com)- Two scientists affiliated with American entities recently won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
On Monday, the award was given jointly to Arden Patapoutian and David Julius. The pair discovered independently key mechanisms of how people are able to sense heat, touch, cold and their own bodily movements.
Julius, who serves as a professor of physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, was able to use one key ingredient that’s found in hot chili peppers to eventually identify a nerve cell protein that then responds to the hot temperatures of the pepper in uncomfortable ways.
Patapoutian, who serves as a molecular biologist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, led a team that discovered a receptor that responds to touch, pressure and how body parts are positioned. They did so by poking individual cells with a tiny pipette.
In 1997, Julius had actually discovered a protein that could sense heat. Following that discovery, pharmaceutical companies began investing billions trying to find drugs that weren’t opioids that could target these receptors and, in turn, dull pain.
Scientists have said, though, that related treatments have since run into huge obstacles. While the research is still ongoing, drug makers’ interest in the potential project isn’t nearly as strong as it once was.
A main reason why the scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize is that pressure and pain are “among the last frontiers of scientists’ efforts to describe the molecular basis for sensations,” according to a New York Times article.
The Nobel Prize in Medicine back in 2004 was awarded to work that clarified how smell worked in the human body. Scientists who studied vision even won the Nobel Prize back in 1967 as well.
The big difference between those sensations and what was studied recently is touch and pain perceptions aren’t located in one isolated body part. In addition, scientists don’t even know what specific molecules they should be looking for when researching it.
As Julius said during an online briefing held on Monday:
“It’s been the last main sensory system to fall to molecular analysis.”
Julius said the main hurdle in his work was figuring out how to sift through the millions of fragments of DNA that encode the different proteins in sensory neurons. He was looking for the one specific one that would react to capsaicin, which is what makes chili peppers have their heat.
To figure out the solution, Julius continued to introduce those particular genes into each of the cells that don’t normally respond to capsaicin until eventually one was discovered that ended up making those cells react to it.
When that happened, the scientists then knew the receptor had to have evolved in a more common stimulus rather than just to respond to hot peppers. The receptor is known as TRPV1.
Eventually, they figured out the other common stimulus was heat. Another thing that activated that channel was acid, which are truly amazing discoveries.