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David Julius, Baruch Minke and Linda Watkins

Prince of Asturias Award for Technical & Scientific Research 2010

Recognised by the scientific community as world leaders in sensorial Neurobiology, David Julius, Baruch Minke and Linda Watkins.

David Julius

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David Julius (biochemist) (Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, United States, 1955). In 1977 he graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences and in 1984 he received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley. He is Professor and Chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of California, San Francisco.

Considered a pioneer in the study of the molecular mechanisms of nociception, Julius hypothesizes that nociception is a specific and individual sensory modality. His studies have shown that nociceptors are a subtype of sensory neurons that respond to a wide range of physical and chemical stimuli having sufficient intensity to cause pain.

He discovered that the TRPV1 channel is a capsaicin receptor that mediates the body’s response to temperature and tissue inflammation and damage, an important finding for the treatment of chronic pain and syndromes related to neurogenic inflammation, arthritis, cancer, and asthma. His work has also led to an understanding of allodynia, or the experience of pain from an innocuous stimulus, and hyperalgesia, the experience of excessive pain from (ordinarily less) painful stimuli.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (United States) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has received the Yngve Zotterman Prize of the Physiological Society of Stockholm (2003); the Kerr Basic Science Research Award of the American Pain Society (2006); the K.J. Zülch Prize for Basic Neurological Research of the Max Planck Society (Germany, 2006); the Edward Scolnick Prize in Neuroscience of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT (USA, 2007); the W. Alden Spencer Award of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University (2007); the Julius Axelrod Prize of the Society for Neuroscience (2007); the Unilever Science Prize (USA, 2007) and the Passano Foundation Award (USA, 2010), among other honors.

Baruch Minke

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Baruch Minke (biochemist and geneticist) (Tel Aviv, Israel, 1940) received his undergraduate degree in Psychology and Biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and a Ph.D. in Biophysics from the same university in 1973. He conducted his postdoctoral training at Purdue University (Indiana, USA) where he studied genetics and electrophysiology of the visual system. Since 1987 he has been a Professor of Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he has acted as Chair of the Physiology Department and is a member of several executive committees. He is also the Director of the Wilhelm Kühne Minerva Center for Studies of Visual Transduction, of the Max Planck Society, and an advisor to the Israeli Council for Higher Education.

He has taught at the Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, USA) and the University of California, San Diego (San Diego, USA) and has conducted research at the Max Plank Institute for Biological Cybernetics (Germany, 1976-1979); the Experimental Ophthalmology Laboratory at the Cantonal Hospital of Geneva (Switzerland, 1983); the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen University (Germany, 1986) and the Australian National University (Canberra).

Baruch Minke was the first to identify a new type of ion channel, the TRP channel, as a result of his studies on phototransduction and vision in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster). He studied the biophysical and biochemical properties of TRP channels in fruit fly eyes, and identified phospholipase C and the TRP channel as a common signaling pathway in numerous sensory systems, including nociception, thus laying the foundation for the study of the molecules that underlie the role of nociceptors in pain.

TRP channels, fundamental components of biological sensors, are involved in pain perception, the sensation of temperature and mechanical stimuli, photoreception, pheromone perception, taste perception, sour perception, Ca2+ and Mg2 homeostasis, the regulation of smooth muscle tone and arterial tension, lysosomal function, cardiovascular regulation, and the control of cell growth and proliferation.

Baruch Minke is a member of the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) and the Israeli Society of Vision and Eye Research. He is also on the editorial board of prestigious international journals such as Cell Calcium and The European Journal of Physiology/Pflügers Archiv. He has organized four international conferences and received numerous research grants, including 10 grants from the National Institute of Science (USA).

Linda Watkins

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Linda Watkins (biochemist and physiologist) (Norfolk, Virginia, United States, 1954). In 1976 she received her bachelor’s degree in Biology and Psychology from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and in 1980 received her Ph.D. in Physiology from the Medical College of Virginia. She has been a Professor of Psychology at the University of Colorado in Boulder (USA) since 1988, and has conducted research at the University of California, Davis, and the Medical College of Virginia. She is on the editorial board of several international scientific journals.

Linda Watkins discovered a new agent of pain: the non-neuronal nerve cells called glial cells, which play a key role in pathological pain and pain resulting from nerve damage. Her research has been fundamental in the study of why certain analgesic treatments, acting exclusively on neurons, do not succeed in reducing pain.

Also, her work has shown how all classes of opioid analgesics trigger the release of neurostimulants from glial cells that override the calming effects of these drugs and lead to tolerance, dependence, or even respiratory depression. Linda Watkins discovered that these effects are not mediated by classic opioid receptors but rather a different receptor, TLR4, which plays a role in glial activation and is a new target for drug treatment.

Linda Watkins is a member of the International Society for Neroimmunomodulation, the International Association for the Study of Pain, the PsychoNeuroimmunology Research Society (USA), the International Pain Foundation, the Society for Neuroscience, and the American Pain Society, among other organizations. Among the awards she has received are the Norman Cousins award of the PsychoNeuroimmunology Research Society (USA, 2005), the FWL Kerr Basic Science Research Award of the American Pain Society (2005) and the Pilot Award of the Colorado Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute (2010).

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