For decades, scientists have wondered how the body senses the ebbs and flows of internal and external temperature changes. When our body’s cells are stimulated by heat or cold, how are these nerve impulses initiated so that the brain can adapt to the world around us?Recently, the two recipients of the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine solved this question. Drs. David Julius (University of California, San Francisco) and Ardem Parapoutian (Scripps Research) focused on how we perceive temperature and touch, respectively. This recognition of the critical role of temperature in human health and well-being underpins everything we do at Embr Labs.
Temperature and Survival
You sit comfortably in front of a fireplace, enjoying the cozy warmth while being careful not to get too close. You reach inside your freezer to grab frozen veggies but make certain not to linger too long in the frigid air. Courageously, you try a new hot sauce that delivers such a burning sensation in your mouth that only ice water can cool the searing heat.The lesson is that too much heat or cold can threaten our survival. As humans, we have a remarkable ability to sense temperature and then adjust our behavior to optimize our capacity to survive. Humans are exquisitely designed to detect very small changes in temperature. As warm-blooded animals, our bodies work tirelessly to maintain optimal, comfortable, life-saving body temperature.
A Scientific Discovery
Dr. Julius first discovered the receptor for hot temperature quite by accident. His team of scientists was investigating how we detect painful stimuli. They used the spicy compound found in hot peppers, called capsaicin, as an example of something that causes pain. After they identified the receptor, they discovered that it is also activated by heat. This receptor identifies potentially harmful temperatures and is the reason you can quickly withdraw your hand from a hot stove. It is also the reason for the “burning” sensation elicited by very spicy foods.Both Nobel Prize laureates later identified the cold receptor, which is also activated by menthol (and is the reason why mint feels cool!). Through their contributions, we are able to better understand how our bodies detect temperature and pain, and the role of these sensations in our daily lives.
Going Beyond Hot and Cold
Increasingly, research demonstrates that temperature provides more than the physical sensations of hot and cold. Temperature can influence how we feel about the people and the world around us. It can also impact our mood, ability to sleep, and even our stress levels. This means we can now leverage temperature sensations to improve sleep, reduce stress, and have a positive impact on people’s lives. We also understand more about conditions that are associated with temperature disruption or discomfort, and why they can have such a profound effect on quality of life.
Thermal Technology to Improve Lives
At Embr Labs, we are harnessing the extraordinary power of thermal technology to improve people’s health and quality of life. Developed by our MIT-trained engineers, the Embr Wave and its companion app are already being used by tens of thousands of women and men to improve sleep, relieve stress, provide relief from hot flashes resulting from natural menopause or as a result of breast/prostate cancer treatments, and to manage discomfort associated with Raynaud’s, dysautonomia, and other temperature-related conditions.
As scientists who care about you and your well-being, we are thrilled that thermal science is a central theme for this year’s Nobel Prize. A deeper understanding and appreciation of the Embr Wave’s unique thermal technology is made possible by this groundbreaking science linking temperature and our body. At long last, temperature is having its day in the warm (not too hot!) sun.