how do we feel the difference between a light breeze and a pinch? To find out? Scientific american custom media, in partnership with the Kavli prize, sat down with Professor Artem Pata Putin. He shared the Kavli Prize in neuroscience in 2020 for answering this basic question Artem says until recently, no one really understood how our sense of touch works decades ago, we figured out how we see and then how we smell and taste, how we sense touch was a big mystery why was touched so difficult to understand, Artem says no one knew how the body turned, a physical sensation like a squeeze on your arm into a message that cells could understand. I always compare this to a dark room that you don't know what's going on inside. You need to find the door handle so that you can open the door, turn on some lights and find out what's inside. After a series of painstaking experiments, Artem and his colleagues found that door knob, a special type of proteins they named the pA's owes.
And these are fascinating molecules that do one thing and that is. They let ions go from outside the cell to inside the cell or vice versa. The body has lots of these ion channels that open and close to pass messages to ourselves, but almost all of them move in response to some sort of chemical change. What was different about the pA's owes was that they responded to physical pressure. No one had seen anything like this before. Once you have these proteins and iron channels, then lots of things are available to scientists to study them. You can get rid of them, see what happens without them, you can activate them and see what happens. You can see where they are expressed in the body and what they do. So that's what Ard um and his colleagues continue to do. They soon discovered that one of the pa's Os possess to doesn't just sense pressure. It also helps us keep our balance. So this is how I can close my eyes and touch my nose. This is why you're coordinated. This is why you can walk without pain.
So to that doesn't function at all. Artoms team also learned that PS does play a role in controlling bone density, preventing malaria and even telling us when it's time to go to the bathroom. The door knob analogy has become very interesting for us because it's kind of taken us into rooms that we didn't even know they existed. One new question. He's excited about whether possesses tell us when it's time to stop eating. So, for example, if you eat a large meal and we all do this, we regret it later. The stomach feels very full, right? So that seems like a very mechanical signal coming from the stomach. If the pieces are the sensors for this, which is a hypothesis that we're asking, then we can go in and ask the question, how much does the mechanical stretch contribute to how much you eat when you eat? So, here's a perfect example of when we were looking for the touch sensor, we never thought that this will take us in these kind of directions. All of these directions also have practical implications.
Doctors could use knowledge about pa's owes to treat all sorts of things, including obesity, osteoporosis and chronic pain, specifically a condition that makes even gentle touches hurt. Easiest example of this is sunburn. When you have a sunburn, just a touch on your shoulder becomes painful. Sunburn is not something we need to treat clinically, but people who suffer from neuropathic pain can't wear a shirt because it's too painful. Artem says Parizeau's might also hold the key to addressing other types of pain. He says, most medications like opioids attack the perception of pain in the nervous system, opioids gets into the brain and there's lots of things. So all the addiction and all the other side effects are because it is acting on the brain. But what if you could use some sort of piezas blocker to address pain where it starts? The idea of blocking pain at the source has the great advantage of not having side effects, Artem says scientists could also use the gene editing technology known as CRISPR, to treat genetic mutations and how potatoes are built.
I don't want to overstate it of course, because it's very early days and the scientific community is being very careful in how fast these kind of technologies are explored. But at the same time it is indeed very exciting, promised that for genetic disorder that you know what the mutation is, there is the possibility of going in and and correcting them. These fixes are still years away from being available, but Artem says the possibilities are thrilling. This is just the beginning, there's just so much more to discover and so I think the future is also very exciting. He looks forward to opening new doors and bringing light to the mysteries of how our bodies work. Arden Pata Putin is a professor at the Scripps Research Institute and an investigator for the howard Hughes Medical Institute. In 2020 he shared the Kavli prize in neuroscience with David Julius from the University of California san Francisco, who discovered a family of receptors that allow us to sense temperature.
The Kavli prize recognizes scientist for pioneering advances in the fields of astrophysics, nanoscience and neuroscience. The Kavli prize is a partnership among the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research and the US based Kavli Foundation. This work was produced by scientific american custom Media and made possible through the support of the catholic prize.