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For Immediate Release: July 8, 2009
Contact: Gina Hebert, 508-289-7725; ghebert@mbl.edu

David Julius

Understanding Pain Through the Power of Folk Medicine and Natural Products Topic of MBL Friday Evening Lecture, July 17

MBL, WOODS HOLE, MA—Dr. David Julius, a pioneer in research clarifying the molecular basis of the sense of pain and temperature, will discuss the power of folk medicine and natural products on pain at the MBL Friday Evening Lecture on July 17 at 8:00 PM in the MBL's Lillie Auditorium, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Medicinal plant extracts serve as the foundation of modern day pharmacology and drug design. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the development of pain medications, the majority of which are inspired by morphine and aspirin, the active ingredients from opium poppy and willow bark, respectively. Aside from their tremendous clinical utility, these analgesic agents have been key to uncovering biochemical and cellular mechanisms that regulate pain sensitivity under normal and pathological conditions.

While some natural plant products (such as opiates) suppress pain, others produce it. This is perhaps best exemplified by capsaicin, the pungent ingredient from chili peppers that elicits a sensation of burning pain. Just as morphine and aspirin have served as chemical keys to unlock cellular mechanisms of pain suppression, capsaicin and other pungent natural products have helped to define molecules and pathways that initiate pain.

In his lecture, titled “From Peppers to Peppermints: Understanding Pain Through the Power of Folk Medicine and Natural Products,” Dr. Julius will discuss these discoveries as they relate to pain sensation when it is useful (protective) or debilitating (chronic).

David Julius is a professor and chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of California, San Francisco. He received his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and pursued post-doctoral studies with Nobel laureate Richard Axel at Columbia University, where his focus turned to neuropharmacology and receptor function. During this time, Dr. Julius developed powerful expression cloning methods that enabled him to identify genes encoding members of the serotonin receptor family.

Dr. Julius is a member of the Board of Directors of The McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience. He also serves on the Scientific Advisory Boards of the PEW Scholars Program in Biomedical Sciences and the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.

Dr. Julius is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received numerous honors and awards, including, most recently, the Julius Axelrod Prize from the Society for Neuroscience, the Unilever Science Prize, and the W. Alden Spencer Award from Columbia University.

The Friday Evening Lecture Series will continue throughout the summer at the MBL. The remaining lectures in the series are below. For more information, visit www.mbl.edu/FEL

July 24: Paul Falkowski, Rutgers University
“The Microbial Engines that Drive Earth's Biogeochemical Cycles”

July 31: Martin Raff, University College London;
“Good News about Autism”

August 7: Eric Davidson, California Institute of Technology
“Gene Regulatory Networks: the Genomic Code for Embryonic Development”

August 14: Martin Chalfie, Columbia University, 2008 Nobel Laureate
“Touching Green Worms”

August 21: Josh Sanes, Harvard University
“The Circuits That Let Us See”


The MBL is a leading international, independent, nonprofit institution dedicated to discovery and to improving the human condition through creative research and education in the biological, biomedical and environmental sciences. Founded in 1888 as the Marine Biological Laboratory, the MBL is the oldest private marine laboratory in the Americas.