The Shaw Laureate in Life Science and Medicine 2010 Prof. David Julius Spoke at CUHK
Prof. David Julius, The Shaw Laureate in Life Science and Medicine 2010, presented on ‘From Peppers to Peppermints: Natural Products as Probes of the Pain Pathway’ yesterday (29 September) at Shaw College of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). One of the signature events of the Silver Jubilee of Shaw College, the lecture was a full house, attracting close to 500 CUHK staff and students, professionals in the field, as well as secondary school teachers and students.
The Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine was awarded to Prof. David Julius, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, USA in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the understanding of fundamental biological function and its medical implications.
During the past 15 years of pioneering research, Professor Julius has uncovered mechanisms by which human beings sense pain and temperature as well as mechanisms that underlie pain hypersensitivity. His work has provided knowledge that opens the door to rational drug design for the treatment of chronic pain.
Professor Julius’ strategy for seeking out molecules that play a critical role in signalling a painful touch or temperature is to track them down with the help of natural products or drugs that trigger the same sensations and perceptions. In a groundbreaking study published in 1997, Professor Julius’ team sought to discover how a component of chili peppers, called capsaicin, provokes the spicy hot and burning sensation when applied to human skin. The research led to the identification and cloning of the specific ion channel that is responsible, named TRPV1.
TRPV1 is a specialized ion channel located at the tips of sensory nerves and is triggered not only by capsaicin but also by temperature higher than 43°C. The ion channel also contributes to the hypersensitivity to heat felt in injured tissue, such as sunburned skin. When tissue is hypersensitive the stimulus is perceived as burning hot, thus alerting the person to avoid further injury. Professor Julius delineated the mechanisms by which this channel became hypersensitive under pathophysiological conditions.
Subsequently, Professor Julius successfully cloned and identified other ion channels responsible for perception of other sensations, including TRPA1, TRPV2 and TRPM8. TRPA1 is activated by wasabi and other mustard oils that cause pain, irritation and inflammation. He also discovered a channel called TRPV2 that is activated at a higher temperature than TRPV1, and another called TRPM8 that detects painful cold sensations and menthol.
The Shaw Prize is an international award to honour individuals who are currently active in their respective fields and who have achieved distinguished and significant advances, who have made outstanding contributions in culture and the arts, or who in other domains have achieved excellence. The award is dedicated to furthering societal progress, enhancing quality of life, and enriching humanity’s spiritual civilization. Preference will be given to individuals whose significant work was recently achieved.
The Shaw Prize was established under the auspices of Sir Run Run Shaw in November 2002. The Shaw Prize for 2010 consists of three awards: the Prize in Astronomy, the Prize in Life Science and Medicine, and the Prize in Mathematical Sciences. This is the seventh year that the Prize has been awarded.