Pepper Pain

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Capsaicin is the magic ingredient that makes hot chilli peppers hot. The human body produces its own endogenous capsaicin-like substances — fatty acids called oxidized linoleic acid metabolites or OLAMs — but they don’t simply generate a spicy heat; they cause pain:

Dr Kenneth Hargreaves, senior researcher at the Dental School at the University of Texas, and his team next set out to see if they could block these newly discovered pain pathways.

Lab work on mice showed that by knocking out a gene for the receptors, there was no sensitivity to capsaicin.

Armed with this knowledge they set about making drugs to do the same.

Dr Hargreaves said: “This is a major breakthrough in understanding the mechanisms of pain and how to more effectively treat it.

“We have discovered a family of endogenous capsaicin-like molecules that are naturally released during injury, and now we understand how to block these mechanisms with a new class of non-addictive therapies.”

Ultimately, he hopes the drugs will be able to treat different types of chronic pain, including that associated with cancer and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.

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