19. december: How to make your dentist visit less painful – Københavns Universitet

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19. december: How to make your dentist visit less painful

KU's Alumneforening har bedt forskere fra Københavns Universitet fortælle om aktuelle forskningsprojekter. Det er tilsammen blevet til de 24 låger i årets forskningsjulekalender, hvor du kan læse om alt fra livets oprindelse til den personlige julemad. I dagens låge fortæller Stephan Pless fra Det Sundhedsvidenskabelige Fakultet om sin forskning i lægemidler.

Pain killers

In many day-to-day situations people use over-the-counter pain killers, such as ibuprofen. In fact, drugs belonging to this drug class, the so-called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are widely used across the globe against pain and inflammation. Similarly, the local anaesthetic lidocaine is used by dentists to alleviate the pain associated with their work around your teeth (unless you are brave enough to opt out, that is).

We know what they do, but not exactly how

Ibuprofen and lidocaine both have in common that they are widely used and effective in treating inflammation and pain, respectively. This is in part because scientists have a good understanding of what type of molecules in our body these drugs target.

However, these and a surprising number of other widely used medications are not well understood in how they actually work on the molecular level. In other words, we know what they do, but not exactly how.

This is particularly true for the above-mentioned drugs, as they target molecules in our nervous system. Here, many potential drug targets are tricky to study because they do not simply float around in the cell, but hide in the cell membrane.

Providing new ideas to design drugs

My laboratory therefore uses and develops a range of cutting-edge technologies to find out how drugs interact with their target with very high precision. In fact, we are able to exchange single atoms on both the drug and their targets in order to determine exactly what is required for them to interact effectively. The knowledge gained from this work provides the basis for optimising these interactions and therefore providing new ideas to design drugs with higher specificity and fewer side effects.

Spider venom

At the same time, we are also trying to tap into the vast potential provided by naturally occurring molecules that could serve as future drugs. For example, the venoms of some spiders contain molecules that have great potential as pain killers or even as a long-sought treatment against stroke.

Who knows, maybe one day, dentists might use molecules found in spider venoms to make sure you do not suffer too badly when your dentist deals with the aftermath of all that “Fredagsslik”…

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Morten Meldgaard, der igen tager os en tur til Grønland, denne gang for at tage et kig på den grønlandske slædehund.