Posts Tagged ‘Nobel Prize for medicine’

Congratulations to this year’s Nobel Prize winners in Medicine for their work on sensory awareness.

In a year dominated by a worldwide pandemic, where the one and only thing I wanted was to hug my grandchildren again, we now know how our neurotransmitters relay the touch of a loved one to our brains! Ironic, don’t you think.

“David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian, from the US, share the 2021 prize in Medicine or Physiology for their work on sensing touch and temperature…. (the latter’s) experiments led to the discovery of a different type of receptor that was activated in response to mechanical force or touch. When you walk along a beach and feel the sand under your feet – it is these receptors that are sending signals to the brain.”


While Patapoutian was discovering a touch receptor that factors into our body’s ability to sense it’s time to urinate among other things, Julius was working on sensing the burning heat of a chili pepper. The hot culprit is the chemical capsaicin.

Last week I tried out a new recipe for Mexican street corn. I happened to have a pablano chili pepper which is probably the most mild pepper around. I like to chop one into my turkey vegetable chili, but this time I roasted the pepper before adding it to the corn – and I didn’t take the skin off. Even without the seeds, this almost bland chili transformed itself, adding quite a lot of heat. Bob loved it.

I know, you’re probably thinking “Big Deal.” So science is again just telling us what we already know – it hurts to slip and fall on the deck and never order Nashville’s hot chicken. But we didn’t actually know what these touch and heat receptors were, connected to our brains, and now that they have been identified there are profound implications.

Like treating chronic pain, for example.

Every now and then my foster mother Nell would yell, “You’re a pain in the neck!” Of course, I was usually doing something she disapproved of, but today it seems like a prophesy. My doctor recently told me I have severe cervical arthritis. Not to brag, or become one of those seniors who harps on their infirmities, sometimes I would like to have someone shoot a large needle of novacaine in my trapezius.

But what if my neck didn’t send a shot of pain to my brain whenever I move it a certain way? What if, as we age, and as we shrink, and our spinal cartilage collapses, our brain still thinks we’re 35? Or maybe 50!

The broad implications of treating addiction in the future are exciting. Less suffering in the world is a good thing. I may even start cooking with jalapeno peppers! Depending on the outcome of the two bills hovering around Congress, and the start of a new SCOTUS season filled with challenges to Roe and guns, this scientific breakthrough – about touch and heat – should give us hope for a better future.

Mexican street corn

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It’s that time of year again. No, not carving pumpkins time and trying to find or create a family-friendly Halloween costume. It’s the Nobel Prize announcement time; time to try and figure out just what the Higgs boson particle really is and how it’s responsible for the secrets of life and our universe, and I am not speaking biblically.

But try to find the 2013 recipient of the prize in physics, Peter Higgs, and you’d be out of luck. The elderly Edinburgh scientist left his cell phone behind and like Garbo, would like to be left alone.  Of course, once that Large Hadron Collider at Cern proved that his theory about the “god particle” was correct, Higgs was considered a shoe-in for the Nobel in Physics.

So maybe we’re closer to knowing “how” we got here, two other winners this year help us understand the “why.” A man whose mission is to heal won the Nobel Prize for medicine and physiology. Since I have a few healers in the family, I was interested in this article I found courtesy of my musical great niece: http://www.artsjournal.com/slippeddisc/2013/10/nobel-medicine-winner-says-i-owe-is-all-to-my-bassoon-teacher.html  Dr Thomas Sudhof credits his music teacher with imparting a sense of discipline that helped to forge his “…powers of analysis and concentration.”

I always try to understand everything I encounter—not only in science, but also historical and political events and music and movies—get to grips with the content, meaning, and process. This is immense fun, as strange as that may sound.
Who was your most influential teacher, and why?
My bassoon teacher, Herbert Tauscher, who taught me that the only way to do something right is to practice and listen and practice and listen, hours, and hours, and hours.
Science and art, the interconnections are endless. Next is a woman whose elegantly sparse prose helps us to understand the human condition, along with the roles we all play; an artist who is also part of the faculty here at UVA. Congratulations to Alice Munro, recipient of the Nobel Prize in literature! This 82 year old Canadian writer had her first book of short stories published when she was 37…take heed all you late bloomers! She has only taught the occasional writing class in Mr Jefferson’s Academical Village, and was unavailable when I was studying fiction as a community scholar, unfortunately for me.  She is Queen of the Short Story, and has recently published Dear Life.   
Rumor is she will stop writing now, but I find that hard to believe. Here is what Munro, America’s Chekhov, had to say about her attempt at writing a novel, and I feel her pain:“It didn’t feel right to me, and I thought I would have to abandon it,” she said. “I was very depressed. Then it came to me that what I had to do was pull it apart and put it in story form. Then I could handle it. That’s when I learned I was never going to write a real novel because I could not think that way.”imagesSo that’s my problem. Too many years writing 300-500 word newspaper columns. Thank you Ms Munro, for sharing your knowledge and sense of possibility with us.

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