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Better Ways to Target Pain

Improved understanding of the chemical pathway on which aspirin and Vioxx act may lead to analgesics with fewer side effects
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Bengt Samuelsson won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1982 for his work on providing an exacting picture of how the body generates prostaglandins. These hormonelike substances play a role in regulating various biological processes, including the pain induction, fever and inflammation that are blocked by aspirin, ibuprofen and related drugs. Samuelsson did his research, along with Sune Bergstr?m, another of that year's co-winners, on the red-brick campus of Sweden's Karolinska Institute, which also selects the annual Nobel medicine prize.

Karolinska has a long history with prostaglandins, one that dates back to the discovery of these fatty acid derivatives in 1935 and extends up to the present day. In recent years Samuelsson and his collaborators have further elucidated prostaglandin biochemistry--research that is now being exploited in an attempt to develop painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs that are safer than existing agents, including the now tarnished group known as COX-2 inhibitors. "There's an enormous demand for anti-inflammatory drugs," Samuelsson notes. "And if we can develop a drug that's as effective as previous drugs with fewer side effects, that's very important."

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