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

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month 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.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid