Basic Medical Research Award
I am honored that the Lasker Foundation has chosen this year to recognize the field of opiate receptor and opiate-like peptide research. Among the many people who contributed to this area, my own special thanks go to Candace Pert who, as a graduate student, identified the opiate receptors in my laboratory.
Opiate receptor research has paid off both in fundamental understanding of brain function and in the development of novel therapeutic agents. The techniques for measuring opiate receptors have now been applied to receptors for most known neurotransmitters, the substances which carry information between neurons in the brain.
Screening test drugs for influences on the opiate receptor and on receptors for other neurotransmitters has permitted a more scientific, logical, systematic and cheaper way of identifying new, more effective and sometimes safer drugs.
The remarkable identification of the enkephalins as the naturally occurring neurotransmitters for the opiate receptor by my friends John Hughes and Hans Kosterlitz has greatly enhanced our appreciation of how the brain perceives pain and regulates emotion.
Our work on the opiate receptor was made possible by a deliberate decision in 1972 on the part of the National Institute of Mental Health and the White House Special Action office on Drug Abuse Prevention to allocate some defined portion of the "war on drug abuse" to basic research. Opiate receptor research highlights a phenomenon which this audience knows well. Non-targeted basic medical research can and does provide cost-effective benefits, sometimes very directly, for medical, social and basic scientific application.