SAN FRANCISCO, June 12, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Johnson & Johnson today named David Julius, PhD, chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), the winner of the 2013 Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research. Dr. Julius was chosen for his discovery of the molecular mechanism that controls thermosensation (sensory perception of temperature) and elucidation of the role this mechanism plays in the sensation of acute and inflammatory pain. By providing a mechanistic view of how stimuli are detected in the body, his discovery significantly advanced the study of pain and may lead to new pain therapies.
The Dr. Paul Janssen Award for Biomedical Research was created by Johnson & Johnson to honor the legacy of one of the most passionate, creative and productive scientists of the 20th century, Dr. Paul Janssen (1926-2003). Dr. Paul – as he was known in the scientific community – founded Janssen Pharmaceutica, which was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 1961. His work led to the development of more than 80 transformational medicines in several fields, including pain management, psychiatry, infectious disease and gastroenterology.
"The progressive research of Dr. Julius has dramatically shifted the approach to thermosensation exploration, with significant implications for future developments in the treatment of chronic pain and inflammatory syndromes," said Dr. Paul Stoffels, Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson. "His body of work gives us a deeper understanding of the molecular logic that connects ion channels, sensory biology and behavior, enabling the development of more effective treatments for those suffering from neurogenic inflammatory diseases."
Dr. Julius, a biochemist and molecular biologist, utilizes the power of natural products to elucidate molecular mechanisms of touch and pain sensation. Using these products as pharmacological probes, he identified transient receptor potential (TRP) channels on sensory nerve fibers that are activated by heat or cold, providing molecular insight into the process of thermosensation. He began with identifying how capsaicin, the spicy ingredient in chili peppers, produces burning pain. Eventually, Dr. Julius was able to pinpoint a receptor for menthol (TRPM8) and showed that it is activated by cold, revealing a unifying mechanism for temperature detection. By connecting these dots, Dr. Julius supplied insight into the detection of painful stimuli, as well as how the nervous system detects changes in ambient temperature.