Did you know you can be considered a "pot-head" without ever touching, let alone smoking, marijuana? When early neuroscientists went looking for the mental hardware that allowed the body to respond to the active ingredient in the cannabis sativa plant (called THC), they found much more than they were bargaining for. They did in fact identify a perfectly-shaped receptor in the brain. Puzzled at why it would exist (surely the human body was not designed with cannabis-intake in mind?), they went on to discover that the body itself makes a cannabis-like substance, called an endocannabinoid, and that it is part of a complex system regulating appetite, pain, pleasure, and immunity. So, technically, your brain is already wired for pot, and your body produces it all by itself.
Which means that you don't even have to work with cannabis in your lab or weigh in on the merits of its use medicinally or otherwise to explore those cannaboid receptors and the naturally-occuring chemicals that bind to them. Dr. Daniele Piomelli (right) is a neuroscientist, pharmacologist, and biological chemist at the University of California Irvine, and his lab research studies the neurochemical mechanisms that regulate endocannabinoid receptivity. Like any biochemical, after a certain amount of time (usually brief), the body sends a signal to degrade the substance and it winds up in the proteasome wastebin. Piomelli's team is working on staving off that response by devising inhibitor compounds to block enzymes in the brain from breaking down the endocannabinoid neurotransmitters. He's a basic scientist fuelled by the potential for discovery, but he's also firmly focused on translational potential: is there a new treatment to be had here? How can we move this research from the lab to the clinic?
So, on the one hand Dr. Piomelli's research goal is nothing less than mapping out the entire brain signaling system, but on the other he is a member of several drug startups making progress towards bringing his work with inhibitor compounds to market. He is a co-founder of Kadmus Pharmaceuticals and holds some 20 patents with UCI. Piomelli says of his work:
"What we do is meant to be useful at the end of the day. When we study a new mechanism, we always try to create a molecular probe that interrupts or interacts with it in a useful way."
Of course, a scientist who has spent most of his career in research related to cannabis is going to be asked what he thinks of marijuana's therpeutic potential, and indeed Piomelli has over the years become an expert in the public eye through well-publicized interviews, such as 2005 and a 2009 articles in the Washington Post. While he is a friend of the National Council on Drug Abuse and provides them with useful information on how the drug works, he is also in favor of reclassifying cannabis as something other than a Schedule 1 prohibited substance, both for scientific access and to untangle science, care, and politics.
For another recent article on cannabinoid research, see our Mt. Sinai blog: NIH Funded Bioscience Research Shows Cannabinoids Slow AIDS Progress.
The Piomelli Lab is located in the Gillespie Neuroscience Research Facility on the Irvine campus. The 80,000sf, $60M facility houses biomedical research labs dedicated to neurological diseases, a vivarium, a conference center, and faculty offices.
Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. will be holding its 12th annual Irvine BioResearch Product Faire event on the UCI campus October 2, 2012. This professional show is an excellent opportunity for life scientists and lab equipment specialists to come together and discuss lab technologies to make every lab run at maximum efficiency. The UC Irvine BRPF event is one of three tradeshows held over a three-day period in the greater Los Angeles area:
- 10/02/2012 -- 12th Annual BRPF event, UC Irvine
- 10/03/2012 -- 7th Semiannual Front Line event, University of Southern California, Health Sciences Campus
- 10/04/2012 -- 29th Semiannual BVS event, UCLA
For more information on exhibiting at UC Irvine, click the button below. Explore our website and see the complete 2012 Show Schedule, then give one of our sales associates a call.