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

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact 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.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs