CU pain research gets royal nod from Spain

Distinguished Professor Linda R. Watkins

Linda R. Watkins, distinguished professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado, has won Spain’s Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research.

The award, announced this month, recognizes Watkins’ groundbreaking work in understanding the mechanisms and potential control of pain. She shares the 2010 award with two other leading pain researchers, University of California physiologist David Julius and University of Jerusalem biochemist and geneticist Baruch Minke.

Working independently, the trio has “discovered, from complementary approaches, the causes and mechanisms via which pain is produced and perceived, as well as other sensations such as cold, heat and taste,” the Prince of Asturias Foundation stated.

“I am deeply honored to be selected for this prize, with my co-recipients Dr. Julius and Dr. Minke,” Watkins stated. “There are numerous people who have importantly contributed to the understanding and recognition of glia as powerful modulators of pain and opioid actions, both within my laboratory and beyond.”

She added, “I look forward to accepting this award as representing all of the research that has led to glia becoming an important target for improving human pain control and improving the clinical efficacy of opioids.”

Watkins and her colleagues are striving to develop new drugs that enhance the ability of opioid drugs to treat pain, while decreasing negative side effects such as tolerance, dependence and addiction.

In a letter supporting the nomination of Watkins, Julius and Minke, Eric R. Kandel, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, praised the three for their “radical new discoveries” that pave the way for “new strategies for treating persistent or chronic pain syndromes.”

Ada E. Yonath, a 2009 Nobel laureate in chemistry, emphasized the significance of the trio’s research: “It is well known that chronic pain is considered to be of the magnitude of epidemic problem that affects the entire society. Hence, their findings are of immense significance. Furthermore, the prospects of the application of their work for the benefit of mankind are highly promising.”

The Asturias prizes, which will be formally awarded in the autumn, include a stipend of 50,000 Euros and a sculpture by artist Joan Miro. The Prince of Asturius Foundation bestows eight awards annually to encourage and promote “the scientific, cultural and humanistic values that form part of mankind’s universal heritage.”

Watkins, who has been at CU since 1988, is a CU President’s Teaching Scholar and directs the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Ph.D. program. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute for Mental Health, the National Institute for Neurological Diseases and Stroke, the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research, and the National Institute for Drug Abuse. She has written or co-written more than 250 book chapters, review articles and journal articles.

June 10, 2010

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