News / Health

Blocking Pain at its Source

Research for new painkiller finds inspiration in chili peppers

Inspired by chili peppers, researchers are working toward a painkiller that could stop the brain from registering the presence of pain.
Inspired by chili peppers, researchers are working toward a painkiller that could stop the brain from registering the presence of pain.

Multimedia

Audio

Anyone who has ever had to recover from surgery or a serious injury was probably grateful for the powerful narcotics doctors prescribed to help ease the pain. But all these medications do is dull the brain's perception of pain.

Your brain registers pain through neurons, special cells that wind through the body. When you touch boiling water, for example, get a cut, or even exercise too much, a special receptor on the neuron is activated, sending a signal to the brain — that hurts!.

This much scientists knew. However, they were not clear on how that receptor was activated when this kind of painful event occurred.

The chili pepper model

University of Texas researcher Kenneth Hargreaves says they got an important clue from chili peppers.

He explains that, while people think of the capsaicin from chili peppers as a spice, "it is actually a selective drug. It really produces its effects primarily by just activating the so-called capsaicin receptor."

When we eat chili peppers, we feel a burning sensation. That feeling is caused by the capsaicin molecules in the peppers activating the capsaicin receptors on our tongue — the more capsaicin, the hotter the pepper.

In the course of an entirely different experiment, Hargreaves and his team of researchers discovered that the skin produces its own capsaicin-like molecules, in response to pain.

"We took isolated skin biopsies from laboratory mice, exposed those isolated skin biopsies to temperatures of 43 degrees or 48 degrees, and then we looked at what was being released from the skin under those conditions." Heat typically becomes painful at about 47 degrees Celsius.

When the skin samples were heated to 48 degrees, they produced this capsaicin-like molecule into a solution. Then, Hargreaves says, the researchers applied the solution to mice neurons; some with the capsaicin-receptor and some that had been genetically modified to eliminate that receptor.

"The ability of these substances to activate pain neurons was totally dependent upon capsaicin receptor," says Hargreaves.

A new approach to treating pain

Hargreaves says this is a huge discovery, one that could fundamentally change how doctors treat pain. "Now that we have discovered the endogenous capsaicin molecules, for the first time, we can block their synthesis and therefore we can treat pain at its cause."

Narcotics, the most powerful drugs currently available to fight pain, simply dull the brain's perception of it. But if a medication can block the capsaicin-like molecule from reaching the neuron, it could stop the brain from ever registering there was any pain to begin with.

Hargreaves and his team are already in the process of developing two classes of drugs that do just that. One would stop the body from producing the capsaicin molecule. Another would soak it up, before it reached the receptor on the neuron.

And crucially, these drugs do not seem to have the same potential to become addictive, the way narcotics do. Hargreaves says the first class of drugs could begin clinical tests in humans within the next six months.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs